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Bobby Watson: From the Heart

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Bobby Watson boasts a long résumé and proven track record. Yet the versatile alto player doles out much solo space to the unheralded sidemen on From the Heart. The album, Watson’s first since 2004, features well-developed compositions whose riffs and melodies recall the soulful hard-bop of Art Blakey and Horace Silver. But more than half of the tracks fall into the four- and five-minute range; as a consequence, the solos fail to stretch beyond a chorus. Watson makes the most of the self-imposed boundaries, and the results merit his reputation. He plays an abbreviated but heated solo on the opener, “Wilkes BBQ” (an excerpt from a big-band suite he plans to premiere in the fall).

The ballad “Purple Flowers” highlights his singing tone; unfortunately, his solo ends just as it picks up momentum. On “Deep Pockets,” a dissonant bop line over a choppy rhythm section, he soars into the saxophone’s upper register and cuts loose. Watson also stands out on the Latin-flavored “Aye Carumba,” and on brisk, straightforward vehicles like “Peace, Love, and Carrots” and the title song (another take of a previous tune, “Del Corazón,” taken at a faster clip). His gusto provides a clear contrast to vibraphonist Warren Wolf and pianist Harold O’Neal, who are less exuberant; and to trumpeter Leron Thomas, who occasionally lacks polish. Watson’s democratic approach on the session follows the lead of Blakey, his former mentor whose Jazz Messengers showcased scores of newcomers. In the absence of another soloist in his weight class, however, Watson fails to exploit a valuable asset-namely himself.