Review by Brad Walseth
Tain Watts rose to prominence as THE drummer for Branford and Wynton Marsalis, and as the drummer for several years on The Tonight Show; however, Watts is no coattail-riding, media creation, but rather a talented and creative drummer - perhaps the most influential of the modern generation, and a composer of considerable merit. Striding a path that combines traditional and post-bops sounds with a modern sensibility, Watts has breathed new life into the jazz arena with his compelling compositions, and his latest - Folk's Songs happily continues this trend.
With a stellar supporting cast, including bassist extraodinaire Christian McBride, up-and-coming saxophonist Marcus Strickland, and talented David Kikoski on piano, "Folk's Songs" features 7 originals and 3 covers - all dedicated to people who have influenced the composer's life.
"Samo" - dedicated to '80s NYC artist, Jean Michel Basquiat - starts things off interestingly, with all four principals engaged in some heady musical conversation. Watts shows why he is one of the most in-demand jazz drummers around with his powerful and addictive drum work, while Kikoski's piano flights also soar. Meanwhile, McBride's expressive double bass churns, while Strickland wails. This is a group of highly-talented individuals working together as a unit that isn't afraid to experiment.
Keith Jarrett's "Rotation" is given a brilliant reworking (the first of two versions included on this album). Again, the entire ensemble burns brightly, while Watts' drumming is breathtaking in its originality and strength. "Ling's Lope" is dedicated to friend and former bandleader Branford Marsalis, and is a sterling tribute to the great saxophonist A bit of blues, a bit of the Big Easy, some swing, some post bop and this song lopes along delightfully. Kikoski adds a graceful solo here over the top-notch rhythm section.
In a tribute to troubled, but very talented comedian, Dave Chapelle, "Seed of Blakzilla" combines hard-charging African rhythms (propelled nearly to light-speed by Watts' manic drumming), some humorous interludes and some heart-of-darkness shivers into perhaps the strongest number - one that shows just how far-reaching Watts' talents and interests are. Equally seductive, but this time in ballad form, is Watt's lovely tribute to his girlfriend, musician Laura Kahle - "Laura Eliazbeth." Here Struckland's sensitive and soaring soprano plays lightly off Kikoski's cascading acoustic piano. The beauty of this number is spellbinding, and the breadth of and contrasts between the compositions to this point are simply astounding.
Another very interesting piece - "Galilee" starts off with church-like piano work, before adding some tasty gospel-infused organ, courtesy of guest artist Henry Hey - who also appears on a couple other numbers before the album ends. McBride plays a very satisfying solo here, and then things mutate first into a mysterious free form "hell" before moving into a rewarding melodic slow burn. Meanwhile, the funky "Blues for Curtis," toasts Mr. Mayfield with some burning R&B-infected jazz, featuring some scorching work by David Gilmore on electric guitar.
"Rotation II," begins with McBride bowing his acoustic bass and Kikoski playing some Keith Jarrett-esque pianoforte, and is a nice complement to the first version, while paying tribute to one of Watts' musical heroes (again - check out Watts amazing drum pyrotechnics!). The shortest number on the album is "Same Page," where Watt's displays his sense of humor by featuring his untrained vocal talents, under the pseudonym "Juan Tainish."
Ending things is a cover of Kenny Kirkland's "Blasphemy," which Watts dedicates to his friend and former bandmate, the underappreciated keyboardist who died much too young. The song is utterly haunting and is performed with such care by the group that it seems to hang in the air after the music nds.
"Folk's Songs" continues the musical directions Tain Watts has been pursuing, and his tribute to the people who have influenced him clearly demonstrate what an influence Watts is himself, as a writer and musician helping lead jazz into the future.