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April 2006

Ernie Watts Quartet
Spirit Song
Flying Dolphin

While Ernie Watts has been playing tenor with the likes of Carole King, Steely Dan and Marvin Gaye, he's also been performing first-rate jazz with such groups as Charlie Haden's Quartet West and his own straightahead quartet. Spirit Song is a product of the latter, whose members--drummer/vibest Bob Leatherbarrow, pianist David Witham and bassist Bruce Lett--have been performing with Watts for 20, 15 and 14 years, respectively, developing a special group cohesiveness evident in their music.

Watts plays in a virtuosic post-Coltrane style, with a fine, distinctive tone and an expansive technique that permits him to generate long, cleanly articulated lines that dance along confidently even at challenging tempos like those of "ASFEW (A Song for Ernie Watts)," "Joy Trane," "The Bubala Dance" and Wayne Shorter's "Pinocchio." But he can easily shift to a warm expressiveness, as he demonstrates on such slow tunes as the ruminative "Enchanted." And he gets a lovely, mournful sound on the spirit flute for the exotic, folklike title track.

The rhythm section is more than up to the challenge of the metrical sophistication of some of the music, with Witham and Lett also proving to be commendable soloists in their own right.

Originally published in April 2006
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