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Ernie Watts Quartet: A Simple Truth

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Ernie Watts is one of the strongest tenor saxophone sidemen in jazz. He has enhanced ensembles large (Gerald Wilson Orchestra), small (Charlie Haden’s Quartet West) and rude (the Rolling Stones). He has also made some fine albums as a leader, like 1995’s Unity and ’98’s Classic Moods.

Those who have experienced Watts in small doses and who think of him as a shouter will be surprised by A Simple Truth. It contains some burners, like Dizzy Gillespie’s “Bebop,” but it is mostly plaintive and pretty. Watts’ comprehensive eight-minute rendering of Keith Jarrett’s “No Lonely Nights” opens with a commanding cadenza, a revelation of instrumental control and pure sound. Watts’ clarion power, especially in the tenor’s extreme upper register, qualifies him to portray plaintiveness, and creates an unsentimental version of prettiness. Billy Childs’ “Hope in the Face of Despair” is another extended heartfelt testimonial. Watts emphasizes the hope and rejects the despair. His ascents are unmistakably affirmational.

The rhythm section here (pianist Christof Sänger/bassist Rudi Engel/drummer Heinrich Köbberling) is solid and conventional. The most striking tracks are the two without them. The album opens with “The Sound: Morning” and closes with “The Sound: Evening.” Both are melodies like prolonged sighs, composed by Watts and Ron Feuer. Watts plays them accompanied only by Feuer’s electronic technology. It is remarkable how, in the right hands, a synthesized orchestra can sound so credible and organic. On both spellbound pieces, Feuer wraps his faux ensemble all around Watts. Lush, looming clouds of sound are pierced by a tenor saxophone’s long, passionate calls.

Originally Published