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Bobby Watson: Live and Learn

Alto saxophonist Bobby Watson broke onto the scene on the Blakey bandstand, all elbows and energy wrapped in monster chops. The ensuing decades have nurtured him, it seems, giving his wildest flights a luster and polish you have to admire. Watson’s first CD for Palmetto, Live & Learn, features pianist Orrin Evans, guitarist Greg Skaff, bassist Curtis Lundy and drummer Montez Coleman, and it was recorded in New York City just two weeks after the horrors of 9/11/01; it doesn’t take a shrink to suggest that this may account for a distinctly soulful flavor to the set, particularly evident in Watson’s brilliant testimony on his own “River Jordan.”

Taste is the hallmark of “Stanky P,” the set opener, with Watson and Skaff in a soft shoe exchange on the theme. Evans is characteristically smooth, piquing our attention from time to time with melodic steps beyond the expected, without calling too much attention to the gesture. “Thank You” is all about energy, Ornettelike in its melodic character and spaciousness, with Coleman and Lundy driving underneath, sparked by Watson’s exhortation to “Give me what I need!” Lundy’s root-anchored ruminations recall Charlie Haden’s early work, but the trio sounds fresh all the way.

Tradition and the moment are easygoing dance partners throughout Live & Learn, which comes to summation in Watson’s reading of “I Gotta Be Me.” “It’s my personal theme song, my credo,” says Watson in the liner notes, and his performance soars here and throughout the CD.

Originally Published