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Saxophonist Ernie Watts releases a new album on his Flying Dolphin Records label

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Last May Ernie Watts used his own Flying Dolphin Records label, created in 2004 in partnership with his wife Patricia, to release a “concept album” whose tracks would constitute a journey through a “jazz day.” The performance was by the Ernie Watts Quartet with Watts on tenor saxophone, Christof Saenger on piano, Rudi Engel on bass, and Heinrich Koebberling on drums. Two of the pieces were Watts originals, “Acceptance” and “A Simple Truth,” which is also the name of the album. One, “The Road We’re On” is by Koebberling. Of the remaining tracks, one is a classic, Dizzy Gillespie’s “Bebop,” while the other two are by Watts’ contemporaries, Keith Jarrett (“No Lonely Nights”) and Billy Childs (“Hope in the Face of Despair”). The entire cycle is framed by a “Morning” prelude and an “Evening” postlude, both performed by Ron Feuer on synthesizer against Watts’ improvisations.

The result is an idea that looks better on paper than it actually sounds on recording. The comfort zone for Watts’ personal rhetoric seem to gravitate into the domain of “smooth jazz.” This tends to dull the edges between the individual tracks. As a result, there is less a sense of journey and one of an ongoing meditation with subtle shifts in perspective. As might be guessed, Gillespie suffers most from this smoothing process; but that uniformity also does no favors to Watts expressing his own voice through his own music.

Nevertheless, one can still admire the overall sound of Watts’ quartet, in which Watts is the only American member. (The other three are German.) This a group with a well-balanced overall sound, the sort of unified sonority one expects from a well-trained chamber music ensemble. There is no denying the solid foundation of craft that all the musicians bring to this performance. One can only wish that they had approached their work with a bit more old-fashioned American moxie.

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