Reaching Up

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Watts
LABELS: JVC
WORKS: jazz
PERFORMER: Ernie Watts (saxophones); Jack DeJohnette (drums); Charles Fambrough (bass); Mulgrew Miller (piano); Arturo Sandoval (trumpet)
CATALOGUE NO: 2031-2

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Although you won’t find sax player Ernie Watts’s name in many jazz reference books, you will almost certainly have heard him. Less well known as a leader, the versatile American is much in demand as a sideman and session player. Studio credits include work with The Rolling Stones and Frank Zappa. His flexibility has also brought him film and TV score work: it is Watts’s reeds you hear in Ghostbusters and Cagney and Lacey. Thus far his solo jazz projects have taken second place. Reaching Up is a return to the fold and a good opportunity to hear Watts doing what he does best: digging in.

The material here is swinging, straight ahead stuff, half of it original, and Watts’s playing is characteristically zestful. Busy and brimming with ideas, he wields all three saxes like an alto, combining lightness of touch with an abrasive and bluesy wilfulness. Watts’s old sparring partner, red-hot Cuban trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, puts in some blistering solo work, notably on ‘Reaching Up’ and ‘The High Road’. Always Say Goodbye finds Watts on more familiar ground, as sideman to celebrated bass player Charlie Haden, and in a film-related setting – Haden’s latest Quartet West project begins and ends with music from the original score for The Big Sleep. In between is a nostalgic celebration of postwar popular music and movies, with old recordings of Duke Ellington, Chet Baker and Coleman Hawkins segueing sweetly with the studio band.

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In ‘Où es-tu mon amour?’ Watts creates a wonderfully wistful conversation between the contemporary Stéphane Grappelli and an earlier recording of him, before Django Reinhardt takes over. The melodramatic voice of Jo Stafford in front of the 1944 Paul Weston and his orchestra is presaged by a sensitively executed bass solo by musical director Haden. Watts’s contribution is typically sublime. Garry Booth