Jazz CD Reviews

Bobby Watson & The UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance Concert Jazz Orchestra – The Gates BBQ Suite – Lafiya Music

Barbeque and soulful jazz - a winning combination.

Published on October 9, 2010

Bobby Watson & The UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance Concert Jazz Orchestra – The Gates BBQ Suite – Lafiya Music

Bobby Watson & The UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance Concert Jazz Orchestra – The Gates BBQ Suite – Lafiya Music, 42:51 ****:

Bobby Watson has both good taste in food and in the jazz he has brought to the public for many years, ranging from his time as musical director during his period with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers all the way up to his recent reformation of Horizon with Terell Stafford, Edward Simon, Essiet Essiet, and Victor Lewis. I had the privilege to see Horizon over Labor Day weekend in Detroit, and it was a treat.

Speaking of a treat, you can’t do much better than chomping on barbeque ribs while listening to your favorite hard bop or soul jazz tracks. When Bobby returned to his hometown, Kansas City, in 2000, to direct the Jazz Studies program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, he was also returning to the food of his youth. His grandparents ran a barbeque restaurant in Merriam, Kansas. Further to Watson, Kansas City is “the Napa Valley of barbeque, and Gates Barbeque stands alone as king of the valley.”

It wasn’t much of a stretch for Bobby to get the inspiration for his seven- part extended big band work that celebrates his love both for this lip- smacking food and his upbringing in the area. After being away from Kansas City for 25 years in New York City, writing this suite must have been a labor of love.

“May I Help You?”, the friendly refrain heard when entering Gates, opens the suite. A drum roll kicks off the track before the smooth blend of the horns opens up. Hermon Mehari provides a bright solo and you sense the ribs are in the smoker ready for your order, as the track ends with “Hi, may I help you?”

The sax section is featured along with the guitarist, Nick Grinlinton, on “Heavy on the Sauce” before Ben Saylor on alto sax, and the chief “cook”, Bobby Watson himself, pour on the sauce. William Sanders and Steven Lambert have a tenor sax shoot-out on “Beef on Bun”, one of Gates’ signature dishes.

A blues follows on “Blues for Ollie” (Gates) and several of Watson’s students have a chance to solo. The percussionists in an African tribal beat are appropriate for “The President’s Tray” which is the signature platter of all the smoked meats at Gates’ Barbeque. Watson added the opening processional to honor the inauguration of Barack Obama.

“One Minute Too Late” laments the times that Watson had raced to Gates, just to find out that it just had closed. Bobby pours out his grief in his solo. So close, and yet just the smell of what had just got away…

Bobby honors his grandparents with the final movement of the suite, “Wilkes BBQ.” The UMKC jazz orchestra does its leader proud with this spirited rendition. Opening with a funky bass line they are powerful when driven and silky smooth when the need arises.

Every jazz-loving town needs its own barbeque joint, where you can celebrate America’s musical gift to the world, while diggin’ in with both hands with plenty of napkins nearby. Thanks Bobby for introducing us to Gates Barbeque, the best ‘que in the hometown of Charlie Parker!

TrackList: May I Help You, Beef on Bun, Heavy on the Sauce!, Blues for Ollie, The President’s Tray, One Minute Too Late!, Wilkes BBQ

- Jeff Krow




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