Charlie Watts ‘Charlie Watts meets the Danish Radio Big Band’ (Impulse!) 4/5

Rolling Stones’ drummer, Charlie Watts, has graced the veteran rock group from the outset and been a key member who is often under-valued, but his primary love of jazz, especially from the be-bop era, is well known to jazz devotees and he has regularly set aside time to focus on his own jazz-based projects. This latest offering finds him in the convivial setting of a larger big band format and it proves to be a revelatory experience, and equally a chance to hear both what a fine composer Watts is, and a sensitive accompanist and leader to boot. Major contributors to the overall sound are conductor and flugelhorn soloist, Gerard Presencer, who excels in this environment and Dave Green on acoustic bass. The live setting of the National Concert hall in Copenhagen proves to be the ideal location in which to hear this formation at its very best.
Maestro Elvin Jones has long been a hero of Charlie Watts and, as an integral part of the classic John Coltrane quintet of the 1960s, one understands why. A two-part suite devoted to the drummer forms the first part of the album and, while ‘Elvin Suite Pt. 1′ is gentle and sensitive number, with Kenny Burrell-esque guitar accompaniment, it is really part two that captured this writer’s attention, with a sudden surge of tempo and an explosion of percussive action from Watts, with a lovely wailing saxophone. No information is available from the preview copy as to whom that saxophonist may be, nor the pianist who contributes the vamp, but an engaging piece of big band jazz it is nonetheless and, one moreover, that is not without recalling the Coltrane plus larger ensemble work of the early 1960s on the original Impulse label.

What really captures the listener’s attention, however, are the two re-readings of classic Stones’ material revisited in a big band jazz idiom. A candidate with ‘Elvin Suite Part. 2’ for strongest album track is, ‘Faction’ aka ‘I can’t get no satisfaction’, and here Watts maintains a heavy beat while electric piano and guitar operate in tandem, while there is a gorgeous flugelhorn solo from Gerard Presencer. What appeals especially here is the gently propelling Latin-jazz rhythm with arrangements that Chico O’Farrill might have attempted with and Freddie Hubbard from his 1970s era could have placed on one of his Columbia recordings. An outstanding performance all round. The second Stones re-interpretation is that of, ‘You can’t always get what you want’, which features a lengthy solo from Presencer. Watts’ love of the jazz tradition is emphasized on the standard ballad, ‘I should care’, with collective reeds here including flutes as well as a trombone solo, and with fine work from the rhythm section. Watts and Presencer seem to have been soaking up the pioneering big band sounds of the Thad Jones and Mel Lewis big band and these come to the surface on the excellent driving groove of, ‘Molasses’, which could easily have been composed by Lalo Schifrin for a film soundtrack.

This new and live big band recording captures Charlie Watts in his prime as a jazz performer and can be heartily recommended to jazz fans young and old. Full marks to Gerard Presencer for his creative arrangements.

Tim Stenhouse