For his seventh album as a leader, drummer-composer-bandleader Jeff “Tain” Watts once again impresses with his masterful polyrhythmic aplomb and his uncanny ability to ignite a session. Whether it’s the dancing title track, anchored by James Genus’ deep-toned upright bass groove and buoyed by David Kikoski’s piano and Steve Wilson’s robust alto sax work, the intricate 12/8 groover “Edwardian Overture” (for drummer Ed Blackwell) or the easy, behind-the-beat midtempo swinger “Jonesin’ (for Elvin),” Watts’ signature touch informs and elevates the proceedings. (The final one-minute cadenza of solo drums on that Elvin Jones tribute is especially meaningful.)
“Of August Moon” is for the celebrated playwright from Watts’ hometown of Pittsburgh, August Wilson. The lyrical “Little Michael,” which opens with the familiar drum riff from Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You,” is a golden, soulful paean. The melancholy ballad “A Wreath for John T. Smith” is a moving tribute to a fallen comrade of Tain’s. Wilson unleashes soaring soprano on the explosive “Möbius,” then opens up on alto on the exhilarating closer “Torch E-Ternal,” which also features a ferociously swinging solo by Kikoski, one of the most criminally underrated pianists on the scene.
This formidable foursome delivers the goods on Family, but the heart and soul of the session comes from the force of nature on the kit, who by now has established himself in the lineage of great drummer-bandleaders from Chick Webb to Max Roach, Art Blakey and Tony Williams.