The name of Hill District-born jazz drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts is on the CD jacket of Positootly!—a reason why you may be interested in hearing this. You need to know, however, that Watts is not featured. In fact, he has only a few bars of what might be called a solo in one of the 10 fundamentally straight-ahead selections.
But, if you listen attentively, you’ll know what wonderful contributions he makes here. More important, you could find that this session merits your attention and could discover that pianist/composer John Beasley has a lot to offer: catchy, compelling, colorful pieces, sparkling with variety.
Sure, Beasley’s name rings fewer bells than Watts’ does. Watts has been acclaimed on the scene since back in the early 1980s, when, circa age 21, he made a name for himself in Wynton Marsalis’ Grammy Award-winning groups. And since then he’s been at the pulsing heart of so many sessions led by so many greats that listing them would read like a list of who’s who in jazz.
By contrast, Beasley’s sort of been in the dark. Sure, he’s been on stands with some greats, too—Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard and Diane Reeves, for example—but mainly he’s been out of sight in studios, creating music for film and TV scores (“Star Trek,” “Cheers,” “Family Ties,” Fame, WALL-E, Finding Nemo, Godfather III, etc.).
This CD makes clear Beasley’s talent and imagination as a writer, but his playing takes no back seat either. To name all the pieces that can grab you could take up a lot of print, so here are indications. Beasley puts forward a sassy New Orleans pulse in “Shatita Boom Boom” with Watts right down home in the rhythmic intricacies; as arranger, at multiple keyboards, Beasley brings out new dimensions in the drama and intensity in Astor Piazzolla’s “Tanguedia III”; with mellow funkiness the pianist bops through Bobby Timmons’ “So Tired,” where Watts plays the tom-toms with a catchy beat.
Beasley also explores tasteful gentleness a couple of times, including in a piano solo reminiscent of Ravel. Moreover, in six numbers saxophonist Bennie Maupin and trumpeter Brian Lynch add all kinds of extra-worthy dimensions.
Wait. Wait. There’s more. On second thought, don’t wait. Grab it. It will grab you.
The New Relics
Blues Alley Records
This CD’s title, Monongalia, refers to the West Virginia county wherein Morgantown lies and where these four country rockers plant their feet and where they’ve collectively been doing this thing for nigh on to five years. In The New Relics’ self-created songs, the band has come up with swatches of catchiness, some stomping fun, a few “folky” flavors and, sometimes, even sorrowful intensity.
Band leader bassist Josh Swiger points out that he, guitarists Jim Bidwell and Mike Arbogast, and drummer Brian Martin all have roots in country music, citing group influences such as The Rolling Stones, John Mellancamp and Pat Green, among others.
They’ve come up with three earlier CDs while collecting multiple degrees from West Virginia University in computer science, business, education and music. As for being “relics,” Swiger says that basically they’re having fun with the oxymoronic wordplay since none of them is much above 30. And regarding the words they wrote for the tunes, you won’t find them in the liner notes, but they are at the band’s Web site, thenewrelics.com.
These fellas seem to be on the way to a kind of success, as this CD debuted as No. 59 on the Billboard Country Indicator Chart in November.