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Ernie Watts Quartet: Wheel of Time

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Saxophonist Ernie Watts possesses one of jazz’s most distinctive tenor tones, a sound of both mammoth size and full-hearted romanticism. This sound largely sustains Wheel of Time, a no-frills, pleasantly listenable outing from Watts’ European quartet (pianist Christof Saenger, bassist Rudi Engel and drummer Heinrich Koebberling), with whom he has played and recorded regularly for over 15 years.

The album kicks off with Watts’ earworm of an original composition, “Letter From Home.” On “A Distant Light,” his breathy lines weave a thoughtful waltz-time mood, and he doubles himself on soprano for a sprightly tropics-tinged take on Canadian pianist Adrean Farrugia’s “Goose Dance.” In a tougher-edged vein, Watts’ hectic “Velocity” lives up to its title, the rhythm trio blasting ever forward while the saxophonist cuts loose with his sharpest, most piercing figures of the album. This gritty tone also permeates the band’s rendering of Joe Henderson’s “Inner Urge,” where the tune’s multi-leveled intro primes Watts for some deft sleight-of-hand runs, answered with grace by Saenger and a burbling, light-on-its-feet solo from Koebberling.

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