|Bobby Watson, 2015. Photo credit Benjamin Amure|
(Ronnie Scotts, 17th may 2015. Review by Frank Griffith)
Alto saxophonist Bobby Watson, who was composer/arranger for Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers in the late 1970s made a trimphant return to Ronnie Scotts on Sunday. His programme included four originals, including two long-standing Messengers classics A Wheel Within a Wheel and ETA which still resonate vitally today, with the spark and freshness they had at their inception. The aptly titled. ETA, it emerged, was composed during the lead-up to the birth of Bobby’s son some 30 years ago.
Pianist, Richard Johnson, a native of Pittsburgh, birthplace of so many jazz legends (Stanley Turrentine, Erroll Garner, Art Blakey and Billy Strayhorn) handled his roles with aplomb, both as accompanist and as soloist. His proclivity to quote was well-noted throughout, with David Raksin’s theme to Laura making more than one appearance. Too bad, then, that fellow quotesters like Jim Mullen or the late Bill Lesage were not on had, they might have given him a run for his money. Veteran bassist, and brother of vocalist, Carmen Lundy, Curtis Lundy, sparkled in his time-keeping as well as his solos. His considered melodic shapes meted out on Sweet Dreams were a grand example of this. Baltimore-born drummer Eric Kennedy gave sensitive support to the soloists, creating subtle and muted moods. By contrast, he demonstrated more flamboyant African polyrhythms on his unaccompanied solos.
Watson’s alto effectively weds his liquid and silky tonal quality with a serpentine-like technique coupled with the application of circular breathing, which is accomplished by inhaling and exhaling concurrently to avoid a break in the sound. Circular breathing is often trotted out as a mere sideshow gimmick by the chancers and the less capable stuntsters; Watson uses it as an intensifier, building up the dramatic flow of both the music and the message.
The penultimate piece of the set, Mal Waldron’s classic, Soul Eyes stood out not least for Bobby’s solo entrance quoting Harold Arlen’s Somewhere Over The Rainbow followed later by Tony Hatch’s Downtown during his brief cadenza at the tune’s close. What these songs (especially the latter) have to do with Soul Eyes is anybody’s guess, but of course an interpreter of this great repertoire associated with this music has full licence to do as he or she pleases. Long may Mr Watson continue to do exactly that, and – please – to come back to Soho sooner rather than later.