REVIEW / PHOTOS: Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts Trio with Orlando Le Fleming and Paul Bollenback at Unterfahrt in Munich

Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts. Photo credit Ralf Dombrowski

Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts Trio with Orlando Le Fleming and Paul Bollenback
(Unterfahrt, Munich. 7th February 2017. Review and photos by Ralf Dombrowski(*) )

“I’m sending you pictures of one of the gigs of the year,” wrote Ralf Dombrowski….

In the audience were several drummers, established musicians in their own right, often with awards to their names, people active on the scene as instigators, teachers and role models. All standing there in amazement, because the master is in town. Jeff ‘Tain‘ Watts has stopped by at the Unterfahrt for the first time in his career, so far spanning more than three decades, which in itself is something of a sensation.

After all, the drummer from Pittsburgh, whose influence over American jazz of the nineties came in part from his role as rhythmic epicentre of the Branford Marsalis Quartet, is only rarely to be seen this close up. Moreover, he and his trio partners, guitarist Paul Bollenback and bassist Orlando Le Fleming, were all in such a good mood, their tour stop in Munich became a very memorable evening indeed, one of those occasions which brings to the fore, makes blindingly self-evident in the moment, what jazz is actually all about.

An interval drink…
L-R: Orlando Le Fleming, Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts, Paul Bollenback.
Photo credit Ralf Dombrowski

 Watts is the complete master of the bigger picture. He carefully creates shapes and forms, and always finds exactly the right balance between polyrhythmic frenzy and the consistency of an underlying pulse. Everything that one could ever think of or ever want to be conjured from the drums is present in his playing: rhythms, tone-colours, everything from the longest of narratives to the shortest and subtlest of nuances. He has all that canny calculation that his experience gives him, but also a strong inclination to just go for it and to take risks. One can observe how he listens, one can feel how he reacts. It is a continuous process of alert communication in which he articulates what you might call a drumming commentary. Playing fully acoustically and unamplified, his sound has a sonorous completeness about it, encompassing the extremes of loudness as well as the most filigree, airy detail, leading with the hi-hat.

Orlando Le Fleming. Photo credit Ralf Dombrowski

Orlando Le Fleming on bass, with his sleek, groovy fluency, achieved the remarkable feat with his dark, velvety sound of never being percussively at odds with Watts’ compelling musical concept which has a completeness in itself. This is teamwork with the individual roles for each member clearly assigned. Paul Bollenback brings to mind a table-tennis partner, shaping melodies, lobbing motifs and themes with unconventional swerves into the air, and occasionally taking his own path as a soloist. He has a clear sense of his own aural aesthetic, prefers a sound that is full and grounded, and connected to Watts’ percussive opulence rather than climbing off into the stratosphere. This is how to form such a unified and complementary ensemble. What results is one of those evenings destined to stay in the mind for a long time. And you don’t actually have to be a drummer to appreciate it.

Paul Bollenback, Orlando Le Fleming. Photo credit Ralf Dombrowski

Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts. Photo credit Ralf Dombrowski

(*) This is a translation of Ralf Dombrowski’s  original review in German for the Sueddeutsche Zeitung. a leading German broadsheet. 

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