52 Jazz Tracks for 2021. 42. ‘First Song: For Ruth’ – from Charlie Haden Quartet West, In Angel City, 1988

The 42nd of Jon Turney’s weekly selections features a memorably different saxophone sound.

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Charlie Haden’s Quartet West project produced a series of albums that were love letters to LA, and its mid-century culture. This, the second, remains a favourite.

In keeping with the name, Quartet West featured West Coast players. Larance Marable on drums took over from Billy Higgins from this recording on, Alan Broadbent played piano, and – most crucially for the overall sound – uber-session man Ernie Watts played tenor saxophone.

Watts – who I first encountered with Frank Zappa – has a sound out of the main line of tenor heroes, with a light, slightly keening tone, and perfect control.

All the Quartet West recordings show what an outstanding soloist he is. There’s a lengthy version of Lonely Woman on this one which was reprised at a much later Quartet West gig in London, yielding one of the single best tenor sax excursions I think I’ve ever heard. 

But this Haden-penned ballad also shows him at his best. Like all great tenor players, his technical command allows him to weight each note in a phrase differently. That gives the first theme statement great emotional heft, Watts outlining the tune accompanied just by piano chords. This carries through beautifully into his solo, with Haden and Marable gently cushioning the tenor’s first choruses and a limpid response from Broadbent before Watts returns to play us out.

Listen to this track on Spotify

More on this recording on Jon’s Bristol Jazz Log

Read Jon’s introduction to the ’52 tracks’ series

Week 41. La Folia: The Roccella Variations – George Russell Living Time Orchestra

Spotify playlist for the series

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