Blue, Vol. 2 review May 2017 - THE NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD
by Terrell Holmes
Jeff “Tain” Watts, drummer par excellence, enhances hislegacy with Blue, Vol. 2, which builds on and expandsthe themes and genres of the excellent first volume.Watts composed and arranged all of the songs and hiscore band of guitarist Paul Bollenback, pianist JamesFrancies, bassist Orlando le Fleming and tenor saxophonist Troy Roberts swing with aplomb. Watts’ writing and playing sample various genres but, as the title suggests, everything flows from the blues. Opener “Chicken Ballet” combines earthy blues with high-energy hardbop and includes one of Watts’ composing trademarks, as faithful as a Hitchcock cameo: switching between two different time signatures at various times, like a car accelerating and decelerating. Alto saxophone superstar Steve Coleman joins Watts and bassist Robert Hurst in a formidable trio on the funky “uh-UH!!”, the balance and timing among these vets defining textbook jazz. The warm, relaxed "Cleo” is also a trio track, this time with bassist Dwayne Dolphin and guitarist (and fellow Tonight Show alum) Kevin Eubanks meshing beautifully. Harmonica sensation Grégoire Maret stars on “14E”, with its undulating, evocative rhythm Dayna Stephens’ impassioned saxophone energize Watts’ majestic arrangement of the traditional song “Water”. In addition to all of the brand-name talent, Watts showcases some exciting young players: pianist Osmany Paredes and bassist Yunior Terry Cabrera work out fiercely on the ostinato-driven burner “Sons of the Jitney Man”, spurred on by Stephens’ tenor and Watts’ typically ferocious and sophisticated drumming. This quartet also throws down on the dynamic and hilariously titled “Blakzilla vs. Yo’Mothra”. Watts has always been a fine composer but his talent as a lyricist shouldn’t be overlooked. Vocalist Sy Smith infuses the infectious “Lenalane” with a vocalese style and lighthearted mischief. Watts can also lay down a serious love ballad, Kurt Elling lending his earnest voice to “You’re Mine and I Want You”, confessing his love amid the tender piano of Manuel Valera. “Waltz for Marvin” is a contemporary journey through the inner city blues, a bridge linking Marvin Gaye’s pain and prophecy from
What’s Going On to the current social scene, expressed through the bemused but effective singing of Frank McComb. With Blue, Vol. 2 Watts has
added another impressive chapter to his oeuvre.
Blue, Vol. 1 (2015)
Dark Key Music is proud to present Blue, Vol. 1 - the new album by Jeff “Tain” Watts, recorded at Tain’s recording studio, a former church in Easton, Pennsylvania. Blue is part one in a series, with the second installment coming later in 2015. The focus of these recordings is mostly blues and ballads, with an overall dedication to Jeff's mother, Marie Lewis Watts, who passed away in 2012.
Leading off with his arrangement of Thelonious Monk’s Brilliant Corners, Tain sets the mood straight. Vivacious modular beats and rhythmic hooks take us on a journey led by the drum set enlisting David Budway (pno), Troy Roberts (sax) and Neal Caine at the bass. Taking cues from Monk’s original recording which changed tempo during the solos, Tain transitions effortlessly from funk through medium swing to up tempo tip and back again.
"Come on down and get some red beans. Way down yonder in New Orleans" heralds the funky second line beat and rabble of Farley Strange. There’s a nice new cast of cats making appearances here, notably Paul Bollenback (gtr), James Francies (pno), Orlando le Fleming (bs) and horn section of Troy Roberts (ts), Kenyatta Beasley (tpt) and Clark Gayton (tbn/tba).
Hearing the first few tones of Frank McComb brings us into the comfy chair, but don’t chill too long, May 15, 2011 calls in Christian McBride, Osmany Paredes, Mark Whitfield and Luisito Quintero to the rhythm section, putting you back on your feet.
Just when you think the hits might be through, Tain brings us his powerful musical and vocal adaptation of Driva Man by Max Roach and Oscar Brown Jr.. Originally interpreted by the great Abbey Lincoln, Ku-umba Frank Lacy sings courageously here, with solos by Troy Roberts (ts) and young James Francies (pno).
The epic polymetric swinger Blues For Mr. Charley is another ode to the slave master; a nod to the great African American writer James Baldwin, with a dedication to Amiri Baraka and fellow drummer Charley Drayton. This quartet with Osmany Paredes (pno), Troy Roberts (ts) and Chris Smith (bs) is also featured on the following three tracks.
Faux Paul, an elegant ballad dedicated to both the late drummer/composer Paul Motian, and Allyson Paul, a dear friend of the scene. It features Gregoire in fine form and highlights Tain’s sincere and melodic pen. Again including Gregoire Maret are two instrumental avant leaning compositions inspired by Tain's daughters, Flip & Dip and Brainlifter. Challenging the listener, while delving deeper into the complex range of Tain’s palate, these jams swing and dig ala Ornette.
Closing out with the plaintive ballad Reverie (for Marie), Blue showcases Tain’s compositional range while hinting at a future as producer with his own studio. Says Jeff: "We look forward to exploring and refining each step of documenting music." The sky’s the limit !!
Available now here: