Jeff “Tain” Watts, Family

Britt Robson

By Britt Robson

on 03.29.11 in Reviews

Drummer "Tain" Watts turned 50, got married and became a father to twins right around the time this album was recorded, and the mature jubilation that permeates the disc clearly comes from someone less interested in sowing his wild oats than in adding a branch — or two — on the family tree. Where the drummer's previous record was politically acrid and sharp-witted, Watts wastes no time showcasing his satisfied ebullience on the title cut, which sports a brawny, crowd-pleasing melody, a solid contrast between Steve Wilson's alto sax and Watts's heavy, tom-tom oriented rhythm combinations. A highlight — of both this song and the entire record — is the work of underrated pianist David Kikoski, whose chiming tone and sparkling phrases are vital to the projects prevailing mood. Add stalwart bassist James Genus, and you have a rock-solid quartet that's capable of maintaining equilibrium despite Watts' dominant approach (which is, at times, reminiscent of Tony Williams) and whose interplay becomes more enriching with repeated listening.

Showcasing his satisfied ebullience

There are overt tributes that extend the Family concept beyond Watts, his band, his children and his new wife (pocket trumpeter Laura Kahle, who helps out with the production and artwork here). "Of August Moon" is a restless, thorny and episodic homage to the life and profound work of the late playwright August Wilson (like Watts, a Pittsburgh native). "Little Michael" leads with the drum riff from Michael Jackson's "Rock With You" and remains feathery and graceful throughout. "Edwardian Overture" is a short piece that features a simmering, march-time segment from Watts reminiscent of the late drummer Ed Blackwell. And "Jonesin' (For Elvin)" is blues-oriented and beat-heavy (even Wilson's alto lands hard) in tribute to John Coltrane's former drummer Elvin Jones. The last song, "Torch Eternal," references the permanence of family in its title, and provides us with Watts' longest and best solo on the disc and enough of the quartet's effusive synergy to make the bookends of this disc the most dynamic two tracks.