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Ernie Watts: Analog Man

The title refers to Watts’ saying, “I’m an analog man in a digital world.” Well, if we’re talking the absence of electronic instruments on this album, the statement is true. But if we’re talking antiquated saxophony, forget it. The tenor and soprano man is as hip as advanced digital technology, and his digits produce prodigious technique throughout this album, on which his acoustic compatriots include pianist Christof Saenger, bassist Rudi Engel and drummer Heinrich Koebberling.

Recorded in Cologne, Germany, the album reinforces Watts’ position as one of the heavyweight successors to the John Coltrane legacy of instrumental mastery and postbop conception. He has an authoritative delivery, a strong tone and a forceful, sometimes gritty vibrato. (It’s impossible to hear that vibrato and not think of his albums with Charlie Haden’s Quartet West, but this CD is another bag.)

The title cut, by Watts, is in a walking, “Killer Joe”-like groove, with multi-noted, impassioned tenor runs in the lengthy solo section. “Elements,” another Watts original, opens with an intense, burning, head-to-head drums-and-tenor duet in the manner of Elvin Jones and Trane. Victor Feldman’s “Joshua” is another smoker. The European rhythm section acquits itself admirably with solid, analog-value currency throughout.

On the quieter side, the Rickie Lee Jones ballad “Company” is a spine-tingler (soulfully embellished, heroic tenor here) and Watts’ “Morning Prayer,” a tenor solo accompanied by Patricia Watts on Burmese temple bell, visits Charles Lloyd’s spiritual realm.

Originally Published