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JAZZ REVIEW

Stones' Watts Lets Others Take the Spotlight

July 17, 1996|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts says he loves jazz, and he confirmed his affection for the music Tuesday night at the Henry Fonda Theatre in a concert with his quintet, singer Bernard Fowler and a 21-piece orchestra.

Although he was positioned front and center--in appropriate rock star fashion--Watts took a low-profile musical stance, mostly limiting his contribution to brisk, economic rhythmic time-keeping.

Which was just as well. Despite his great knowledge of and clear fondness for jazz, his skills in this arena are minimal, and he was wise not to push them too far.

Most of the instrumental performance space was allocated to alto saxophonist Peter King, fluegelhornist Gerald Presencer, pianist Brian Lemon and bassist David Green.

King is a first-rate bebopper who has mastered the Charlie Parker idiom to such an extent that some of his solos were almost eerily reminiscent of the legendary saxophonist's work. Presencer is a promising young player who needs to temper his manifest technical virtuosity with a more thoughtful approach to his improvisations.

Lemon and Green held the rhythm together admirably, despite the distractions of erratic audio and the colorless metronomic drumming of Watts.

But the star of the show, according to Watts, was singer Fowler, who also is the showcase performer on the new Watts album, "Long Ago & Far Away" (Virgin).

Unfortunately, Fowler's background in gospel, blues and R&B was not the most useful preparation for a program dominated by ballad standards.

Fowler's voice was easygoing and pleasant, and his stage presence was impressive, but his readings were little more than melodic run-throughs, and occasionally--when he seemed perplexed by the themes--even less than that.

Neither Fowler, the Watts Quintet nor the orchestra was particularly well served by the sound reproduction, which ranged from adequate to confused. And the orchestra's performance was so sloppy and unbalanced that it could only have been the product of a brief rehearsal.

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