Ernie Watts Quartet - Home Light

Label: Flying Dolphin Records, 2019

Personnel – Ernie Watts: saxophones; Christof Sanger: piano; Rudi Engel: bass; Heirich Koebberling: drums.


Veteran tenorman Ernie Watts, 73, has recorded with numerable musicians in wide-ranging musical genres. Apart from integrating the Charlie Haden Quartet West, Watts gave major contributions to works by Cannonball Adderley, Bobby Hutcherson, Jean-Luc Ponty, Lee Ritenour, Gerald Wilson, and Quincy Jones, just to name a few. Outside the jazz scene, he got known for his collaborations with Frank Zappa, Marvin Gaye, and Carole King, as well as for touring with The Rolling Stones.

In the mid-2000s, Watts convened his European quartet with three German musicians: pianist Christof Sanger, bassist Rudi Engel, and drummer Heirich Koebberling. Their new outing, Home Light, is a straight-ahead ride with no bumps or stumbles that begins with “I Forgot August”, a contrafact of “I’ll Remember April”. Here, the saxophonist shows off his deft soloing skills and has the pianist joining him in the B section of the theme, doubling the melody.

Frequie Flyiers” is an uptempo, all the more vibrant, bebop-oriented number where he shows a compelling command of timbre, delivering a powerful final statement merely backed by drums. This particular section is evocative of Ornette Coleman.

Both “Spinning Wheel” and the title cut are soulful songs that have the name of Sanger in the writing credits. The pianist penned the former tune as a non-swinging 4/4 post-bop ride, while the latter, dedicated to the late American drummer Leon ‘Ndugu' Chancler, is a gospel-tinged waltz that resulted from a compositional collaboration with Watts.

O.P.” could stand for Oscar Peterson, but it doesn’t. It’s Oscar Petiford, the bassist who mentored Sam Jones, author of this enthusiastic hard-bop piece. The solos from bass, sax, and piano are shrouded in frenzied intensity and the band trades fours with Koebberling by the end. The latter contributed one piece, “Cafe Central 2AM”, which lilts with a gentle, bohemian attitude.

Written by trumpeter Brad Goode, with whom Watts worked recently on the former's quintet album That's Right! (Origin Records, 2018), “Joe” is another dedication, this time to saxophonist Joe Henderson. It’s a stouthearted, swinging incursion into Latin jazz designed with an extra soprano saxophone attached through overdubbing.

Demonstrating a bonafide inner motivation, Watts mixes earthly vibes with some occasional spirituality, keeping jazz in its purest, classic forms.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
04 - Frequie Flyiers ► 06 - O.P. ► 08 - Joe