REVIEW: Jeff “Tain” Watts Trio at Pizza Express (2018 EFG LJF)

Kurt Rosenwinkel, Antti Lötjönen and Jeff "Tain" Watts at Pizza Express
Photo: © Kasia Kawalek
Jeff “Tain” Watts Trio
(Pizza Express, 20 November 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Peter Jones)

This was officially Jeff “Tain” Watts’s gig, but I was really there to hear guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, whom I’ve wanted to catch ever since Rob Luft told me that Kurt was his greatest inspiration.

Either musician could be called a hot ticket: both of them playing together ensured two sell-out houses at Pizza Express, even on a cold, wet Soho night in November. The trio was completed by Finnish bassist Antti Lötjönen. And this, we were told, was their debut performance.

The overwhelmingly male audience were a pretty serious-looking bunch, quiet and attentive, who clearly appreciated players able to combine a dazzling turn of speed with total accuracy. Watts was an engaging presence behind the drums – more engaging, in fact, than the music. The band’s style was varied, hard to pin down, varying from funky to strange and arhythmical to loose and swingy, as in a blues called, I think, Brekkie with Drekkie – Tain’s nickname for his longstanding collaborator Michael Brecker. Ice Age was a song in 5/4, whose lyrics Tain read out, since apparently he can’t sing. (“One day I’ll get a singer to do it properly.”) The neat paradox was that human beings are growing colder as the planet heats up. Later he told a story involving another of his musical chums, Branford Marsalis, when they were in Mexico, and George Benson walked in, talking about various latin rhythms including something called the merengue. “No, wait,” says George, “That’s something you put on a pie, ain’t it?”

At the end Tain announced, “We gonna play some jazzy jazz”, and they did John Coltrane’s 26-2, which Wikipedia informs me is a contrafact of Confirmation, but with Coltrane changes. Whatever it is, it was greeted with enthusiasm by the audience.

This was an interesting evening, and not without its moments of beauty, but perhaps because the trio is unused to playing together, their music never really grabbed me, and I didn’t hear in Kurt Rosenwinkel’s playing that astounding originality that we’ve heard in the past.

The line-up plays gigs in Poland and Holland over the next few days, then Jeff Watts tours for a week in Sweden and Denmark with the Fredrik Kronkvist Quartet.

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