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Jazz Reviews : Toe-tingling Top Notes From Sax Man Watts

November 08, 1986|ZAN STEWART

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.

The rhythm team of Pat Coil, piano, Joel Di Bartolo, bass and Bob Leatherbarrow on drums supported the leader's outpourings with precision and fire. Coil was spotlighted in "urban renewal," where he shifted between synthesizer and electronic grand piano, coming up with ideas that had a swinging jazz feel, and on "Moment's Notice," where he handled the brisk tempo easily.

Watts closes Sunday.

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