Bobby Watson

Jazz Showcase, Chicago, IL
November 7, 2010

Bobby Watson by John Broughton
Bobby Watson

Review by Brad Walseth, Photos by John Broughton, Copyright 2010

You could tell alto saxophonist Bobby Watson was feeling it when he launched into a joyous version of "Down by the Riverside" to open up the Sunday afternoon matinee at the Jazz Showcase Nov. 7. The veteran Kansas City-based artist had an excellent supporting cast of local musicians, including piano icon Willie Pickens, drummer extraordinaire Ernie Adams and the redoubtable Marlene Rosenberg on acoustic bass, and these fine performers were really enjoying playing together on this fall afternoon.

Watson has appeared on nearly 100 recordings, incuding 26 as a leader, but is perhaps best known for his tenure as musical director of the Jazz Messengers in the 1970s. We haven't seen this wonderful player here in town since Watson and his Horizon group (co-led with Victor Lewis) made a memorable appearence at the 2007 Chicago Jazz Fest (although James Walker did catch Bobby at this year's edition of the Detroit Jazz Fest) - so it was a true pleasure to hear this player who, at age 57, truly seems to be in the prime of life.

Watson's bold and full, yet clear and bright tone filled the room - his style combining the traditional Kansas City saxophone technique with skills learned in Miami, NYC and around the world. Pickens also was on fire and immediately impressed on this exhuberant, gospel-inflected opening number. Willie's years of experience in both the secular and church realms was on full display and the veteran's command of traditional straight-ahead jazz piano ws matched by his energy. This high-stepping opener was followed by a smooth and sultry ballad written by Watson and his wife Pamela, "Love Remains," on which Adams' sensitve mallet playing on the drum kit was a highlight.

"E.T.A." came next. This incredible number was written for Art Blakey and featured a blistering pace on Rosenberg's walking (running?) bass, supersonic piano and sax lines and ferocious drumming. Sounding like it was based on reharmonized "Giant Steps" changes, this tune was smoking hot!

Ever the educator, Watson invited a young boy onstage to play "Greensleeves," before leaping into a sprightly version of "All The Things You Are." Watson sweet sax shimmered with a golden round and rich timbre, while Pickens dazzled with a highly inventive piano solo.

Versions of "Blue Monk" and "Cherokee" rounded out the set with exceptional playing by all involved and a high level of band interplay between all of these masterful musicians. The Jazz Showcase deserves judos for continually bringing in top flight musicians to perfrom with our own world class musicians.

Marlene Rosenberg

Willie Pickens

Ernie Adams

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