Anybody who knows me is probably aware that Jeff "Tain" Watts is one of my favorite drummers on the current jazz scene. He clearly has an understanding of the history of jazz drumming, but he has developed out of it a sound and style of his own. He is the rarest of cats: a drummer who plays "free," yet understands the importance of the beat. His “Folks Songs” made our 20 list in 2007 (see the review here); now he returns with Watts featuring a supergroup lineup of Branford Marsalis on sax, Terence Blanchard on trumpet and Christian McBride on bass.
These musicians break out of the gate at breakneck pace on the hard bop "Return of the Jitney Man." Watts' muscular drumming propels the rest of the band forward and these fine players comply by shredding for 7:03. "Brekky with Drecky" slows to a mid-tempo blues, with all four members strong and solid as a band can be. "Katrina James" is a monster, with McBride funky on his acoustic bass and some spirited call and response between Marsalis and Blanchard.
Bradford pulls out his soprano sax for the exquisite ballad "Owed," and he reminds everyone with his luscious tone why is simply one of the best players in the world on this easily misused instrument. Special guest Lawrence Fields sprinkles notes from his melodic piano generously on this song, the only one to feature a chordal instrument. Meanwhile, the goodtime "Dancin' 4 Chicken," starts off with a slow blues false start, that stops, turns into a hoedown led by McBrides bowed bass fiddle, before revamping into a New Orleans march that becomes hard bop and… you get the picture. "Wry Koln" (which originally appeared on Citizen Tain as a full-fledged composition) is here presented primarily as a (mostly) drum solo to showcase Watt's powerhouse drumming.
More swinging blues (and more Watts' pyrotechnics) follow on "Dingle-Dangle." With just about any other drummer, this could be overkill, but Watts is so imaginative that he could probably put out full-length solo albums that would be worth listening to. Watts' sense of humor is apparent in his "Devil's Ring Tone - The Movie" in which the band plays beneath a humorous telephone exchange between the Devil and a manager of a certain Mr. "W." The inclusion of humor (political or otherwise) into music is an aspect Watts has never shied away from (see his "singing" on Folks Songs), and the music here is wonderful moving from snippets of TV theme shows (Carol Burnett?) to free form improv, hard bop and New Orleans again — accompanied by the cries of the damned and suffering and the Devil's laughter.
"M'buzai" is yet another mesmerizing drum solo - this time full of references to Africa, while the actual instrumental "The Devil's Ring Tone," minus the comedy act, brings the recording to a close. Blanchard and Marsalis again cut one another almost to pieces. Another entertaining outing from one of the primary badass drummers of his generation.