Sunday, September 20, 2015
Concert Review: The Bobby Watson Quartet at the Folly Theater
I didn’t know what I’d been missing.
Even though I hear Bobby Watson perform a few times every year, I was stunned by what transpired at the Folly Theater on Friday.
The heights that Watson is capable of reaching when he’s backed by his touring band in a proper listening environment exceeded my abundant expectations. An audience of more than 350 witnessed the musically exuberant and profoundly spiritual outing by the man that was named the Plastic Sax Person of the Decade in 2009.
Joe Klopus got it right in his preview of the concert. The vast majority of Watson’s appearances in Kansas City aren’t on his terms.
Watson frequently sits in on other musicians’ sets. In recent years he’s been featured at the Prairie Village Jazz Festival, the Jazz in the Woods festival and in a concert with the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra. He also occasionally headlines at the Blue Room.
Until Saturday, however, I failed to grasp the degree to which those performances were compromised. With his band of pianist Richard Johnson, bassist Curtis Lundy and drummer Eric Kennedy, Watson was able to properly display the breadth of his vision in his hometown for the first time in years.
Watson clearly savored his role as the featured attraction at the Folly Theater. He noted that until Friday that he hadn’t headlined a show at the historic venue since he returned to Kansas City approximately 15 years ago. He made the most of it.
The set list of Watson’s best known material ranged from “Appointment In Milano” to material from the 2013 album Check Cashing Day. The set list was loaded with Watson classics including “Wheel Within a Wheel,” “Karita,” “Love Remains,” “Lemoncello” and “In Case You Missed It.” The band’s interplay was faultless.
A couple minor blemishes precluded perfection. Watson rightfully cringed when many in the audience tittered at the album title of Check Cashing Day. There’s nothing funny about it. The concept album is a lamentation of the unfulfilled promise of the civil rights movement. And a slight bass boom occasionally marred the otherwise excellent sound.
The concert revived my lagging interest in mainstream jazz. During the past several months I’d begun to think that contemporary renditions of the form may never again excite me. Watson and his bandmates proved that melodic bop performed at a high level remains capable of sending me over the moon.
(Original image by Plastic Sax.)