Jeff "Tain" Watts

Megawatts

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The reissue of this 1991 session -- Jeff "Tain" Watts' debut as a leader -- in 2004 suggested that the age of the neo-bopping "Young Lions" had already passed into history, and some of its artifacts were coming due for historical reappraisal. The mundane side of the story is that this release couldn't get properly distributed under this name in 1991 due to contractual conflicts, and went out under the title Thunder and Rainbows by the so-called band Jazz from Keystone. In any case, this disc's return on the omnivorous Sunnyside label is a welcome event -- mostly because of the strong playing by a trio of former Wynton-ites but also because it serves as a memorial for the late pianist Kenny Kirkland, who died in 1998. Predictably, for a piano trio session under a drummer's name, Kirkland dominates the session, whether flashing his considerable post-bop chops or displaying a Keith Jarrett-like lyrical bent in Jarrett's own "Rainbow." As a straight-ahead and highly musical if stylistically derivative pianist left mostly to his own devices, Kirkland is very impressive; indeed, this CD is one of the best examples of his work. But Watts and bassist Charles Fambrough are not left in the dust; with Kirkland, they continue the formidable team spirit and intense interplay that they developed in the Wynton Marsalis Quintet of the early '80s. They mix it up particularly well in a favorite Watts potboiler from the period, "The Impaler," as well as in the cha cha-driven groove of Fambrough's "Opal Rose," and they give Wayne Shorter's "Black Nile" a skilled post-bop ride. Only one Tin Pan Alley standard here, "You and the Night and the Music," which the threesome polishes off in a fleet straight-ahead rush. This session has truly transcended its time -- and there are new liner notes containing often valuable recollections by Watts and Fambrough.

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