Recommended: Reggie Watkins – “One for Miles, One for Maynard”


Reggie Watkins - "One for Miles, One for Maynard"The sophomore release by trombonist Reggie Watkins should be a real treat for the old-school fans.  One for Miles, One for Maynard harkens back to the days when Hard Bop recordings were the straight-ahead of the day.  To achieve this, Watkins generates plenty of warmth to accompany the effortless grooves that sink right in.

Original compositions like “Hurdles,” “Sound Judgment” and “Full Sun” develop a quick tempo that gets the foot tapping without ever making it a struggle to keep up with the rhythm section.  Fat melodies come through loud and clear and were meant to always stay within easy sight.  “Expecting You” stays in range, but goes with a love song touch, and while “Full Sun” has its share of swing, the tune’s post-bop personality gives what’s old a bit of what’s new.

A warm full sound is the calling of Watkins’ ensemble, as his trombone, the saxophones of Rick Matt and Matt Parker (who contributes a couple songs to the effort) and Ian Gordon’s trumpet bring some weight to the tunes with their combined effort.  Drummer David Throckmorton and bassist Jeff Grubbs sound right at home in this environment.  The rhythm section seriously thrives from the addition of Carmelo Torres’s percussion, which adds all kinds of textural richness to the tableau, whereas Howard Alexander III provides an equally valuable service at the other end of the spectrum by providing sharp definition on piano.  Add to this mix, guests on trumpet, keys and lap steel guitar, and there’s no shortage of distractions to keep the ear busy.

But as nice as the original tunes are, it’s the covers that makes this album something special.  Watkins opens things up with an inspired rendition of “Shhh,” the opening track to Miles Davis’s brilliant 1969 recording In a Silent Way.  It would be enough just that he covered this tune, but that he switches out the original’s spacey groove for a Latin one kicks this rendition up a notch or three on its final grade.  Aside from being a nifty compositional maneuver, that Watkins’ ensemble is able to shift the sound of the shuffle while also voicing that strangely mesmerizing, almost introspective melody in a way that dramatically recalls the original is simply outstanding.  Taking the lead on trombone, Watkins goes a long way to showing a new facet of this classic song.

And, as the title alludes, in addition to one for Miles, there’s also one for trumpeter Maynard Ferguson.  Not coincidentally, Watkins was a music director, arranger and performer for Ferguson’s ensemble around the turn of the century.  To honor his former mentor, Watkins chooses to perform the excellent “Chala Nata” (from 1970’s M.F. Horn).  And where the Ferguson original was, at the time, an inventive, modern mix of big band jazz and Indian raga, Watkins embraces the spirit of the song more than its sound when he gives it a spacey, almost spiritual opening that breaks into a thick dance beat augmented by record scratches.  And even with the modern turn of events, there’s no difficulty comparing identities of the before and after pictures.  There is something supremely satisfying when an artist takes a beloved song and simultaneously reflects the original while expressing it with his or her own vision and reflecting his or her own present time.

What the title fails to mention is that there’s also one here for Tyner.  Watkins’ ensemble covers “Contemplation,” from McCoy Tyner’s 1967 classic hard bop album, The Real McCoy.  Here, the thicker fabric provided by percussion and additional wind instruments is really highlighted.  Watkins is able to retain the original’s heavy melancholy while getting the song to move its feet a little quicker and a little lighter.  And, again, as with his other covers, the Watkins rendition mirrors the old but reflects the new.

A very fun and very smart album.

Your album personnel:  Reggie Watkins (trombone), Matt Parker (tenor & soprano saxes), Rick Matt (tenor, soprano & baritone saxes), Ian Gordon (trumpet), Howard Alexander III (piano), Jeff Grubbs (double bass), David Throckmorton (drums), Carmelo Torres (percussion) and guests:  Steve Hawk (trumpet), Josh Moore (keys, programming), and Craig Arlet (lap steel guitar).

This Self-Produced album is released on Corona Music.

Jazz from the Pittsburg, PA scene.

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