I was just sitting down to review Watts at Scott's
, Charlie Watts' excellent new 2-CD set recorded live with his tentet at Charlie Scott's Jazz Club in London, when I came across an AP story reporting that the venerable drummer has been receiving treatments for throat cancer. The good news is that he is expected to fully recover and resuming work with his other band, a little rock and roll outfit called the Rolling Stones. As his latest release amply demonstrates, Watts still has plenty of life and music left in him.
The Rolling Stones are often referred to as "The World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band," and Watts has always seemed to me rather unjustly neglected for his contribution to their unprecedented, sustained success. Lulled by his laconic stage presence and lack of instrumental pyrotechnics, more than one observer has wrongly concluded that Watts' style is lazy when nothing could be further from the truth. His playing always struck me as the embodiment of what Chuck Berry was singing about in "Rock and Roll Music," particularly the line, "It's got a back beat and you can't lose it." As important as the songwriting and sex appeal of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are to the Stones mystique, Watts' rock steady and quietly swinging timekeeping is the bedrock of their sound; if you don't believe me, try to dance next time you hear something like "Gimmie Shelter" or "Brown Sugar." Better yet, try not
While he is best known for his work with the stones, Watts has been listening to and playing jazz his whole life and has released several jazz records over the last three decades. Just as in his rock playing, Charlie approaches jazz drumming with sympathy and taste. Sympathy in not crowding in or showing up the fine musicians he has assembled, taste in picking great tunes and arrangements for them to play. These include the standard ballads "Body and Soul" and "What's New," Ellingtonia in the form of "Take the A-Train," be-bop chestnuts like "Tin Tin Deo" and Monk's "Bemisha Swing," band-member's contributions such as alto saxophonist Peter King's "Roll 'em Charlie" and even "Faction," a clever jazz re-working of the Rolling Stones' signature tune "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction."
Like a point guard in basketball, Watts' steady play has the primary effect of making the other players around him better; any personal glory resultant is secondary to that of the overall unit. That said, two of the most satisfying tracks in the collection are tributes to other drummers that feature Watts stepping outside his usual role as anchor. "Airto" features the drummer creating exotic percussion sounds like the Brazilian great, while Charlie turns the intensity up on "elevens Song" to an appropriate pitch. This disc is a nice introduction to the jazz side of Charlie Watts' playing as well as to nine other very talented UK jazz musicians.