Ernie Watts’ “Home Light” is a shining jazz example

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The Ernie Watts Quartet is known for injecting energy and humor into every song they play. “Home Light,” the Ernie Watts Quartet’s new album is unofficially a salute to jazz traditions. There is be-bop, swing, a touch of blues and a bounty of moods throughout. Watts, a tenor saxophonist leads his ensemble through a nine songs that are full of humor and movement, and that sometimes are a play on words based on another song’s title.

About Ernie Watts

While listening to “Home Light” there is no doubt that Watts has a solid foundation in jazz, some audiences might be surprised to know that the saxophonist has also played with rock and soul musicians, most notably Frank Zappa, Helen Reddy, Carole King and Marvin Gaye among others.

Watts is known for playing saxophone in a variety of registers. His career as a bandleader began in 1969. Watts has been active as a working musician in the 50 years since his first album. In addition to his projects as a leader, Watts has also worked as an ensemble member with other performers since 1970.

Born in Norfolk, Va., Watts has been playing saxophone since age 13. Watts’ style has allowed him to play with a variety of musicians, but in the mid 1980s, he reportedly decided to re-commit to jazz. His efforts paid off. Watts has won two Grammy Awards for instrumental music. According to his website and AllJazz.com, Watts also played on the soundtrack to the movies “Grease” and “The Color Purple.” He can also be heard on the “Night Court” soundtrack.

The sound of Ernie Watts Quartet

The songs on “Home Light” are fun to listen to, but not because of anything approaching novelty. Instead, the tunes sound like they are in the hands of experienced players and there is never a wrong turn. Worth special notice is “I Forgot August” and “Café Central 2 a.m.”

“Home Light” by Ernie Watts Quartet

The overall soundscape is bright. The piano helps to keep the sound open. The saxophone’s super fast rhythms seem to run over the top of the soundscape. Beneath the happy, sometimes elongated notes of the saxophone are the crashing and shimmering of drums and the nimble thumping of the bass. It is perfect jazz for listening or dancing. Either way, “perfect” is the operative word.

“Café Central 2 a.m.” by Ernie Watts Quartet

Bluesy notes that sound like a mix of piano and saxophone create a motif that the instrumentation will return to again and again. The saxophone plays long, lonely passages at times, but it interrupts them to join the rest of the instrumentation in the motif with a bluesy feel.

The song sounds like a lively urban setting in the small hours of the morning. Listeners can imagine a café or lounge even, where the experienced jazz band plays a groovy tune that makes people want to linger a little bit longer just to hear it. Watts and his ensemble pull out a number of jazz tropes from slowed down bass to twinkling piano too give this song nuance and beauty. The way the phrasing ends might remind some listeners of the verve found in the classic “Peel Me a Grape.”  This is quite possibly the best on the album.

Whether it was designed as such or not, “Home Light” is a triumph. The jazz traditions are alive and well on each track. Each portion of the instrumentation is brimming with verve and energy. A must-listen for jazz fans, especially for fans of Watts.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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