If Miles gave birth to the cool, Horizon Reassembled represents a minor renaissance in hard bop.
While a couple of Blue Note albums in the late '80s joined Bobby Watson with drummer Victor Lewis and pianist Edward Simon, the exact quintet that's reassembled here (including Essiet Essiet on bass and Terell Stafford on both trumpet and flugelhorn) has only recorded twice before, on two Columbia releases from the early '90s, Present Tense and Midwest Shuffle. That was back when Watson won four consecutive Downbeat polls as best altoist.
The reunion of the "happy band" (fans' nickname for Horizon) reasserts Watson's prominence and lives up to its name, especially in the leadoff track, "Lemoncello." Named for an Italian after-dinner drink, this tune intoxicates in its own way with an infectious, toe-tapping melody on Stafford's flugelhorn, joined by Watson's warm alto tones. Lewis skips behind on drums, Stafford switches to trumpet for more of the carefree melody, and then Simon takes the third solo. Well worth studying, all three solo turns break up the tune, making it more urban and insistent.
The slow-tempo tracks tend to be less satisfying: a romantic "The Love We Had Yesterday" by Watson's wife Pam, with Watson's sax both wailing and mourning in a relatively wandering solo; the melancholy "Dark Days," a reaction to apartheid with Simon's brooding piano and Essiet's intriguing bass line; and, in the album's nadir, a pointless version of Burt Bacharach's "The Look of Love."
But the many high points include the sassy fanfare on "Eeeyyess," which then slows, as if the two horns were reconciling before the intricate piano-bass interplay of Simon and Essiet; Simon's "Pere," the most hard-driving track; Jimmy Heath's "Ginger Bread Boy," in which Simon disassembles and then, yes, reassembles the four-note theme, pounding out descending chords just before the return of Watson and Stafford's squealing horn chorus; the rapid horn and piano solos on the delightful title track; and the way staccato horns echo staccato piano notes in the opening phrases of Essiet's world-beat "Xangongo."
With Horizon Reassembled (Palmetto Records), Bobby Watson takes the hard-bop achievements of Clifford Brown and Max Roach, Horace Silver, and (especially) Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and gives them his own exuberant twist.