Jeff “Tain” Watts is already known as one of the best jazz drummers in today’s scene, and its already known that he is a capable leader and composer too, but even his fans may be surprised at the new heights Jeff hits with his new album, “Blue Volume 1”. Watts first gained attention as a drummer for Wynton Marsalis, in whose band Jeff featured what drummers call ‘metric modulation’. In laymen’s terms, metric modulation means the drummer is switching to a different time and tempo than the soloist, but in a way that allows the soloist to stay in the original time, while their subsequent shared differing times will still share a common pulse. It may sound confusing on paper, but in a live context, its what makes a lot of today’s best drummers sound interesting. Also, don’t think for a second that Watts sounds academic, his drumming is known for creating quite a thunderous ruckus. After work with both the Marsalis brothers, as well as Kenny Garrett, Watts was ready to enter the new century with his own band and recording projects.
All of Watts’ solo albums to date have been worthwhile efforts. Some of his work leans towards abstract post bop composition, other cuts might be lengthy energetic modal jams, and others might lean towards the M-Base funk sound. You get some of all that on “Blue Vol 1”, but the difference with this album is the sheer force of emotion and grand scope of many of the individual songs. This is a modern jazz album, but its upfront rough street hewn emotional honesty recalls late 60s avant-soul jazz jams by the likes of Archie Shepp, Rahsan Roland Kirk and the Adderly Brothers. Unlike a lot of today’s jazz that can be a little too aloof, “Blue Vol 1” keeps it real.
There are so many great cuts on here. Monk’s “Brilliant Corners” opens things with Watts madly switching from funk to swing to rock, but not in a phony contrived way, this one is slam bang noisy fun from start to finish. “Farley Strange” features guitarist Paul Bollenback, who teams with Watts for a free funk jam that recalls Blood Ulmer with Ronald Shannon Jackson. “May 15 2011” is a beautifully written ballad worthy of one of Stevie Wonder’s best albums, but it too also features a hot jam in the middle section, this time with a Latin flavor. “Driva Man” features the rough hewn voice of Ku-umba Frank Lacy who recalls Leon Thomas and other 60s era street poets. There is more, but too many to list. The only time this album loses its steam is on tracks 7 and 8 where a rather uninspired jam session is allowed to go on too long as it meanders into random noises that come across as noodling filler.
I’m surprised this album is not getting more attention than it is, the power of the first six tracks could make this a contender for album of the year, unfortunately the album does lose some focus for a couple tracks before it closes strongly with the moody and abstract ballad, “Reverie”, but not Ravel’s “Reverie”.