SADAO WATANABE — Round Trip (review)

SADAO WATANABE — Round Trip album cover Album · 1970 · Avant-Garde Jazz Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
js
“Round Trip” is an album that is quite a bit different from the music Sadao Watanabe is usually known for. Although not exactly a household name in the West, Sadao has been one of the top jazz saxophonists of the last six decades, putting out many albums as a leader while working as a sideman with almost every top name in the business. Watanabe is usually known for his sweet Charlie Parker influenced tone on the alto sax which he has used to cut many top notch post bop albums, as well as more commercial type fare too. “Round Trip” is a whole nother trip altogether, on here Sadao plays the soprano sax with a biting and harsh sound as he and his band mates play high octane avant-garde fusion. The band mates, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette and Miroslav Vitous had all been playing similar over the top free fusion at this time, with DeJohnette and Corea fresh from some insane gigs with Miles at the Fillmore.

The album opens with the title track, which is an out and out free jazz barn burner with unbelievably high speed drumming from Jack, plus Sadao’s piercing soprano that seems to be mimicking traditional Asian reed instruments. This track covers most of side one and also features a top notch solo from Corea, who at this time was still playing at his youthfully intense best. His solos during this time revealed an interest in Afro-Cuban jazz, as well as the avant-garde, with the end result sounding like a cross between Eddie Palmieri and Cecil Taylor. In a short time after this recording, he will loose some of his early fire. The only drawback to this track is some occasional hyper attacks from someone on a vibraslap, not really sure who is responsible for this bothersome sound.

Side two opens with Jack pounding out an energetic fractured jazz rock beat while the rest join in for a very 70s jam. Whereas as side side one was atonal, on this new track the band settles into a D Mixolydian modal jam, a scale with a Celtic/Indian sound that was very popular with the hippie generation. Sadao continues with his odd soprano sound that now sometimes seems to mimic a bagpipe. Chick’s piano solo takes the music way outside the modal scale for some crazy adventures and Jack follows him every step of the way before Sadao leads the way back to the original groove. The final track, “Sao Paulo”, is some sort of Brazilian jazz gone berserk. Ulpio Minucci joins the band on piano for this one and he and Chick pound out intense interlocking rhythmic patterns while Sadao joins Jack in the percussion section.

This is an okay avant-garde jazz record circa 1970, you can find worse, but you can also find better. As far as Jack and Chick playing music like this, I would check out Miles live at the Fillmore. For Miroslav, check out his first album, or the first Weather Report album. If you are looking for a first Sadao Watanabe album, I would not go with this, find one where he is playing alto sax, his playing on that instrument is sublime. As for those who appreciate the experimental excesses of the late 60s to early 70s, "Round Trip" has enough good moments to overcome the lesser moments. In accordance with the time period, they get fairly crazy on here at times, and often in a good way.
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