Next week, 42-year-old drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts will release Bar Talk (Sony), only his second album as a bandleader in a career that spans nearly 20 years. This slim discography notwithstanding, during that time he's been one of the busiest drummers in jazz, appearing on more than a hundred recordings with such leaders as Michael Brecker, Ravi Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, and two of the Marsalis brothers (Wynton and then Branford, whom he followed to the Tonight Show band). Watts has also proved himself one of jazz's busiest drummers in another sense: an heir to the line of supercharged, intensely physical players that includes Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, and Billy Cobham, he constantly challenges and stokes his colleagues, filling almost every available space in the music with his barrage of crisp, angular rhythms. In Wynton Marsalis's 80s bands, Watts helped underline one widely overlooked aspect of the trumpeter's work: the injection into acoustic jazz of the high-energy rhythms more readily associated with rock-influenced fusion (which Wynton despises). On Bar Talk Watts pursues this angle, with mostly successful results; only a few tunes (notably "Mr. JJ," the first meeting on disc between tenor titans Branford Marsalis and Brecker) sound like they were more fun to play than they are to hear, an ever present danger in high-voltage music. In general, the busier such music gets, the less musical it becomes--but Watts, who's long recognized this pitfall, almost always leaves room for listeners to focus on his inexhaustible invention and graceful athleticism. The lineup on the new album includes several players who've employed Watts on their own discs, among them Brecker and guitarist Paul Bollenback--who's traveling with Watts on this tour, along with Bar Talk sidemen David Budway (keyboards) and James Genus (bass). Rounding out the quintet is tenor saxist Jimmy Greene, an inspired choice: he lets his lines breathe more than Brecker or Marsalis do, which should help keep the more strenuous tunes from suffocating themselves. Tuesday through Thursday, August 6 through 8, 8 and 10 PM, Friday and Saturday, August 9 and 10, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, August 11, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Christian Lanty.