Jazz saxophonist Bobby Watson released his latest album, Back Home in Kansas City Friday through Smoke Sessions Records. The 11-song record is his 21st as a band leader and fourth to be released through Smoke Sessions Records and comes two years after the release of his then latest album, Keepin’ It Real. The 65-minute record is a wonderful introduction to Watson and his work for new audiences and just as welcome among his established audiences. That is proven through each of the record’s diverse compositions beginning with the record’s opener, ‘Back Home in Kansas City.’ This song will be discussed shortly. The relaxed vibes of ‘Celestial’ make it just as notable as ‘Back Home in Kansas City’. It will be discussed a little later. ‘Blues For Alto,’ the record’s closer, is yet another enjoyable addition to Watson’s new LP and will also be discussed later. Each song examined here is important in its own way to the whole of Back Home in Kansas City. When they are considered along with the rest of the album’s equally engaging and entertaining works, the whole makes the album overall not only one of the best of this year’s new jazz albums field, but also one of the year’s best new albums overall.
Back Home in Kansas City, the latest album from Bobby Watson, is a wonderfully enjoyable new offering from the veteran jazz saxophonist that is appealing on so many levels and will appeal to so many audiences. Its appeal is made clear right from its outset in the record’s opener/title track. Right from the song’s outset, the light bouncy vibe that Watson and his fellow musicians – Jeremy Pelt (trumpet), Cyrus Chestnut (piano), Curtis Lundy (bass), Victor Jones (drums) – create immediately lends itself to comparison to ‘Lester Leaps In.’ That song was crafted by another saxophonist many decades ago, Lester Young. Given the two songs sound different, but the overall stylistic approach taken in the title track here is really that close in style and sound. That this song still maintains its own identity even with that in mind makes the composition all the more enjoyable. Sadly, the liner notes featured in this album, which were penned by Academy Award®-winning film director and screenwriter Kevin Willmott does not offer any background on the song (or any of the album’s songs for that matter), but thankfully at least the media received some background in a press release announcing the album’s release. The release notes of the song that apparently uses the melody from the old Dixieland take of ‘Back Home in Indiana’ and Charlie Parker’s ‘Donna Lee’ for its structure. That is a unique background to consider, again, considering the noted stylistic similarity to ‘Lester Leaps In.’ It really makes for so much more interest in this song while perhaps renewing interest in the other songs and makes this just one of the songs that stands out in Watson’s new record.
Another song that stands out in this record comes in the form of Celestial.’ As noted already, the liner notes featured with the album sadly offer no background on any of the album’s songs. The information provided to the media about the album also has no background on this song. It is quite the polar opposite of ‘Back Home In Kansas City.’ Where that song is so upbeat and energetic, this song is so relaxed and subdued. It is really one of those Make-Believe Ballroom type works that is so danceable. The subtle use of the drums against the horns and piano leads to visions of the old upscale jazz clubs from the 1940s, the big band orchestra in its seats as people dressed in their finest dance hand in hand. Watson’s solo here is so rich in its controlled approach, too. There is so much warmth in his performance that audiences cannot help but remain engaged. Much the same can be said of Pelt’s performance during his solo. Going back to the fact that there is no background available about this song at all, the first thought that comes to mind in listening to this song and reading its title, is that of someone sitting outside on a warm night, looking up at the stars as they come out. That likely is not the backstory here, but to that end, it shows the importance of liner notes. Smoke Sessions Records is typically much better about presenting background about songs in albums released by its artists. It is disappointing that such background is not here.
Getting back on the subject at hand, there is at least one more song here to note. That song is the album’s closer, ‘Blues For Alto.’ The information provided to the media about this song is quite limited. The news release states only that the song is “self-explanatory.” There is nothing else. Listening to the six minute-plus song, it does have a nice, bluesy touch thanks to Watson’s work as he leads the way. Jones’ gentle brush strokes on the snare and time keeping on the hi-hat add just the right touch to the whole, as does Lundy’s work on the bass solo. Yes, even he gets his moment to shine in this record. Once again, it certainly would have been nice to have had some more background on the song (and the rest of the album’s entries), but either way, the song is enjoyable in its own right what with its bluesy jazz approach and sound. It makes the song a welcome finale for Watson’s new record that will leave audiences smiling, wanting more in the best way possible. When it is considered alongside the other songs examined here and with the rest of the album’s entries, the whole makes the album in general one more welcome addition to this year’s field of new jazz albums.
Back Home In Kansas City, the new album from Bobby Watson, is a mostly successful new offering from the veteran jazz saxophonist. That is proven from one song to the next. The diversity in the arrangements and the sequencing thereof is certain to make the album a favorite among jazz fans. The songs examined here do well to make that clear, even sans any background on the songs. When these songs and the rest of the record’s entries, the whole makes the LP one more of the year’s top new jazz albums and potentially one of the year’s top new albums overall.
Back Home in Kansas City is available through Smoke Sessions Records. More information on the album is available along with all of Bobby Watson’s latest news at:
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