(Flying Dolphin Records FD 1008. CD review by Chris Parker)
Perhaps because he’s the ultimate professional – studio musician supreme, guest saxophonist with everyone from Steely Dan to Aretha Franklin, frontline soloist with Charlie Haden’s Quartet West etc. etc. – Ernie Watts has never received quite the personal acclaim that is routinely granted to, say, Sonny Rollins or Joe Lovano.
Here, though, backed by his regular band – pianist Christof Saenger, bassist Rudi Engeland drummer Heinrich Koebberling – Watts demonstrates just what an accomplished player he is: possessed of an utterly distinctive sound, a highly affecting, intensely personal, grainy, singing warble that can flutter through ballad material and tear it up, like a terrier worrying a rat, at the most murderous of tempos, he addresses five in-band originals, a couple of delicious ballads, a bop staple (‘Shaw Nuff’) and – a standout performance – a lengthy examination of Coltrane’s ‘Crescent’ with all the elegance, power and control of a master craftsman at his peak.
Equally adept at the rich-toned theme statement and the double-time solos to which it frequently gives rise, Watts imbues everything he plays with sheer class, his time impeccable, his musical imagination delightfully fecund, his rapport with his impressive, sparky band faultless; he’s simply one of the most assured, resourceful saxophonists on the planet, and this album contains ten superb examples of his art.
Ernie Watts is at Ronnie Scott’s on May 7 and 8.