Graham Reid | | 1 min read
When Rolling Stones' drummer Charlie Watts died in 2021 he was spoken of as the heartbeat of the Stones and a jazz lover who seemingly by accident ended up in the most enduring and biggest rock band of our time.
Obituaries certainly mentioned his side projects with his quintet and big bands, some of his droll witticisms but none, at least not that I saw, mentioned one his most unusual albums.
And to be honest, one I only discovered by accident while doing some research into the recently released Stones album Live at the El Mocambo Club 1977.
Billed simply as Charlie Watts/Jim Keltner Project the album in a non-descript cover appeared in 2000 to no fanfare.
And it has been sometimes described as techno.
Watts and fellow drummer Keltner named the nine pieces after famous drummers (Shelly Manne, Art Blakey, Kenny Clarke, Tony Williams etc) but these pieces with synths and distorted vocal samples alongside Watts' simple kit, is an album so different from anything Watts ever did that it's probably hard to believe it's actually him.
The 11 minute piece Tony Williams is a haunting swipe of electronica, what seems to be Williams' voice processed into unintelligibility and clever off-beats. This is avant-garde music probably more comfortable for readers of magazines like The Wire than rock and jazz listeners.
Billy Higgins with a weaving flute, voices which sound they were captured in Morocco and a driving beat vindicate what Keltner called this sound: techno-world beat exotica.
Despite the titles, Watts/Keltner rarely attempt to replicate that artists' style, although Airto certainly goes down the path to Latin American shuffle.
The 12 minute Elvin Suite at the end might be the starting point for jazz listeners – it features some Ladysmith Black Mambazo-like vocals, soulful singing by Blondie Chaplin, marimba, piano (by programmer Emmanuel Sourdiex) and guitar from Keith Richards.
But if you aren't into jazz or rock and prefer music from Bill Laswell and the margins, then just dive in at the funky techno of Shelly Manne and be prepared to think, “Charlie Watts you say?”
You can hear this album at Spotify here