The way sax man Ernie Watts played his brand of contemporary jazz Thursday at Concerts by the Sea, even a mainstream die-hard might have liked it.
A consummate musician and a telling improviser, Watts chooses likable pop/jazz vehicles. While these similar, modern-sounding numbers are mostly bolstered by a bashing back beat, they're also outfitted with melodies ranging from listenable to endearing and enough harmonic variation to provide a firm base for jazz soloing.
Switching between alto and tenor saxophones, Watts would state a tune's theme, such as "Taj" or "Sanctuary." His improvisations, all delivered with a golden tone, went from subtle reinterpretations of a theme to steaming flurries of notes. He often climaxed ideas by soaring to his horn's highest register, where his ringing tones were toe-tingling.
For balance, Watts threw in a blistering up-tempo rendition of Coltrane's "Moment's Notice," where the ideas were played so fast the notes blurred in your ears.