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Bobby Watson: Made in America (Smoke Sessions)

Review of saxophonist's album paying tribute to African-American pioneers

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Cover of Bobby Watson album Made in America
Bobby Watson album Made in America

History has a way of elevating some heroes and obscuring others. Made in America from saxophonist Bobby Watson serves as something of a corrective to that kind of presentational injustice. Over the course of 65 minutes, his soulful alto rolls out a series of musical portraits highlighting the contributions of important yet oft-overlooked African-American pioneers. A few figures on the list may transcend the theme—Sammy Davis, Jr. is far from unheralded, guitarist Grant Green is certainly acknowledged in the jazz world, and Butterfly McQueen holds a certain cachet in film circles—but the majority fit the bill.

Wendell Pruitt, a Tuskegee Airman who flew dozens of combat missions, is saluted on “The Aviator,” a number that sows melodic seeds taken from “The U.S. Air Force Song” and shifts from a lightly funky gait to solid swing. Madam C.J. Walker, a self-made millionaire who created a line of beauty products for black women, is represented with “The Entrepreneur,” a joyously flowing statement with a pseudo-calypso lilt. Dr. Mark Dean, one of the chief minds behind the creation of IBM computers, is honored on “The Computer Scientist,” a firm-handed and witty scenario that’s perfectly fitting in sound and scope.

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