Bobby Watson belongs to that generation just a bit older than the Marsalis Mob, which for some musicians has meant guaranteed obscurity. Fortunately, though, the alto/soprano saxist--who preceded Wynton and company in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers--has found his audience, thanks in large part to a steady stream of straightforward and distinctive compositions. As a player, Watson has often tended to be more exciting than insightful; several times I've heard him veer into the realm of circus performance with showy but awkward-sounding improvisational tricks. But lately such oddities have taken a backseat, where they don't detract from the real genialities of his style. (These include his light warm tone; the occasional perfectly turned phrase; and an inescapable sunniness--a genuine joy in making music.) In any case, there can be few complaints about his songwriting. On some tunes, such as "In Case You Missed It" and "Wheel Within a Wheel," he constructs memorable (even indelible) melodies; on others, he sets up structural playgrounds for his band to romp through, as on the ballad "Love Remains" and the swinger "Beam Me Up" from his latest album Present Tense, on Columbia. Watson has developed into a skilled bandleader. He has built his quintet Horizon from the foundation up, starting with his longtime featured sideman Victor Lewis on drums, and now presides over one of the sturdiest and most original combos within the jazz mainstream. Tonight and Saturday, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Joe Segal's Jazz Showcase, Blackstone Hotel, 636 S. Michigan; 427-4846.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Hastings.