Jeff “Tain” Watts Blue, Vol. 1 (Dark Key)

Wanna talk swag? The virile gait that kicks off Blue, Vol 1 has so much punch behind it there’s almost no room left for “Brilliant Corners” and its regal melody to make its usual mark. That’s a tad of an overstatement I guess; even Tain’s wallop can’t squash Monk’s indelible theme. But as the drummer/bandleader injects a few funk accents, his signature muscle – arriving in the form of deeply persuasive attitude – defines the action.

For the best, perhaps. Fans don’t turn to Tain’s music to hear one of jazz’s most insightful percussionists tap the brakes on an approach that can, at full throttle, raise the hair on the back of your neck. So as this new program plays out, there’s plenty of oomph in the air. Whether he’s essaying a post-Coltrane excursion on “Blues For Mr. Charley” or warping a second-line groove on “Farley Strange,” almost everything is supercharged.

Though there’s no “base” group at work, a thorough aesthetic permeates each of the nine tracks – another indication of Watts’ artistic focus. A feisty horn quartet is the bedrock, Grégoire Maret and his harmonica stop by, Ku-umba Frank Lacy gets growly (and underscores the album title) with a biting “Driva Man,” Frank McComb sings a Watts-written poem, and a gaggle of pals deliver a jolt of Tremé effervescence. Each is a welcome turn.

Saxophonist Troy Roberts is the man of the hour. Part of Tain’s working outfit for a while now, the Aussie-born tenor player wrings ardent lines from his instrument and matches his boss blow for blow. The roiling expressionism of “Brainlifter,” the acrobatics of “Flip & Dip” – each underscores Roberts’ authority and gives Tain a chance to prove that nuance drives his thunder – close listening is perpetually rewarded. By the time “Reverie” ushers everyone home, you realize there’s just as deep a dedication to subtlety as there is to bluster. On this one, you can see both forest and trees.



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