Fans of Wynton Marsalis' '80s quintet and later Branford Marsalis recordings know that Jeff "Tain" Watts' frenetic, on-the-edge playing contributed greatly to the style of both of these groups. Watts' 1999 solo outing, Citizen Tain, capitalized on that post-bop contrapuntal aesthetic and brought the drummer's personality into sharp focus. Watts proved that he is not only a fantastic, forward-thinking drummer, but also an adept bandleader and composer. As a continuation, Watts brings these talents to Bar Talk. While equally whimsical (perhaps even more so), Bar Talk is less to the point than Citizen Tain -- which is not necessarily a bad thing. It seems as though Watts has been harboring a heretofore unspoken love of fusion that bubbles to the surface now and again on Bar Talk. Watts has gathered a jaw-dropping triumvirate of saxophone royalty to accompany him on his musical quests. Branford returns, brandishing an astonishing amount of avant-garde skronk; Ravi Coltrane -- yes, John's son -- appears, adding a folky, cerebral quality to his tracks; and the indomitable Michael Brecker jumps aboard for two tunes. It is a small disappointment that they all appear on separate tracks, although Marsalis and Brecker take dual turbo solos over the minor-key burner "Mr. JJ." Augmenting the hard and post-bop sound Watts favors are electric guitarists Hiram Bolluck and Paul Bollenback, adding fuzz, pop, and bluesy pucker. Marsalis' reading of the Kenny Kirkland ballad "The Tonality of Atonement" is not only beautiful, but reminds listeners how much Kirkland's sense of harmony and composition influenced his contemporaries and how much he is missed. Underlying everything on the album is Watts' propulsive, empathetic drumming. He reacts immediately and specifically to every musical nuance dropped by his bandmates and has the ability to make his presence known on bombastic funk jams as well as on delicate ballads. There is even a surprising appearance of a newly discovered talent, the suspiciously named Jaun Tainish -- ha, ha, ha -- whose expressive, soulful tenor voice is showcased in a poetic Watts original that closes the album.
AllMusic Review by Matt Collar