Ken & Harry Watters – Brothers II

Ken & Harry Watters
Brothers II
(Summit – 2000)
by John Barrett

It helps to be around friends. Last year the brothers made their first album together, in New York with major names (the biggest being Kenny Werner.) The results were pleasant, if nothing special; Werner was the predominant voice, and the brothers seemed like guests on their own record. This one is different: they’re home in Alabama, playing with Ken’s working band. The chemistry is thick; check “Everything’s Alright”, with its slick 5/4 rhythm. As the piano turns soulful, the brothers march together – two horns with one voice. Ken’s trumpet is soft and weathered, rising slow from the chords of David Marlow. His solo ends in an elegant whoop, which is how Harry starts – and what a tone he has. It’s smooth and achingly pure, the highest trombone I’ve heard since Frank Rosolino. When theme returns and the boys march away, you know: everything is all right.

The marching continues on “Wine and Roses”: there’s a second-line rhythm, straight from New Orleans. (Harry knows it well; for years he led the Dukes of Dixieland.) The ‘bone yawns some deep romance; the trumpet goes sassy, with a quote of “I Found a New Baby”. A soft breeze goes through “Judy Rebecca”, a samba by Ken. Reminds me of “The Girls Back Home” (a tune from Brothers) with a much stronger melody – as composers they have grown immensely. Ken’s solo melts, with soft notes in a pool of seamless percussion. Marlow has a delicate turn; it’s New Age with muscle.

“No Greater Love” is a spotlight for Ken: creamy at first, his notes grow tart and steely, prodded with Roy Yarborough’s bouncy bass. The exchanges are leisurely, as Jay Frederick juggles the tom-toms. The brothers waltz on the beautiful “Vessel”, with Harry up in flugelhorn range! His solo is wonderfully fluid; after a stream of notes, he’ll throw in a slide to show us it’s a trombone. Their “Our of Nowhere” is a rich confection: lush ensembles, Harry’s best solo, and some Kessel from Tom Wolfe’s guitar.

It all changes at “Port-au-Prince”, where Wolfe is spooky and modern. Ken shouts hard and dispaired; Frederick floods him with rhythm. Everyone leaps for “Mrs. Howell”, a blistering bopper. Ken weaves little figures (like Freddie Hubbard in places) and Harry stutters like mad. The toughness is welcome, enlivening this mellow set with a ton of spice. And for a final caress, there is “Pure Imagination”. Marlow pours on the echo, for intimate grace. Ken wanders through the foggy brushes, sweet and clear. (Harry wiggles a bit, adding old-fashioned charm.) There are no real solos, and none needed; the mood is sufficient. The brothers have put on a clinic, showing variety, virtuosity, emotion. And I think we’ll hear ‘em again soon.