Ernie Watts Quartet

Four Plus Four

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It's nothing shy of amazing that -- now in his mid-sixties -- tenor saxophonist Ernie Watts just gets better and better. Like his California peers Charles Lloyd and Azar Lawrence, Watts keeps refining his post-John Coltrane approach with a passion and inventiveness younger musicians can only dream of. He also keeps coming up with new aspects of execution, here presenting his regular working quartet, a newly formed four-piece based in Cologne, Germany, and on one track, both ensembles combined. Save a single standard, this CD also features new material from Watts and his estimable bandmembers, sounding fresh and always either swinging or in a modal base. The greatest quality Watts possesses is ability to sing through his horn, evidenced perfectly during "Crossings," written by the pianist from his European band, Christof Saenger. Then there's the tenor man playing with an immediacy but no rushed sense of urgency for the clockwork pace of "Wings of the Dreamer," with American pianist and underrated stalwart David Witham, who plays beautifully understated piano that can easily be appreciated on its own merits. Both groups collaborate on the floating "Through My Window," evoking Coltrane's spirit similar to his great composition "Wise One," If you haven't become a fan of Ernie Watts yet, it's time to get on the bandwagon. His savvy, tasteful, fully flowered music stands apart from his contemporaries, previous masters, and those burgeoning players claiming Coltrane as a major influence. In short, he's the very best at what he does -- which in itself is a proven, time-tested commodity.

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