Chris Oatts, Personalities Review
by Stamish Malcuss
Chris Oatts is a saxophonist and composer that earned a graduate degree from the jazz program at Temple University’s Boyer College of Music and Dance. Oatts is releasing his latest album, Personalities, on which he leads a nonet. The liner notes cite that each song is linked to an everyday personal experience, allowing Oatts to focus his energies and feelings on a fixed emotion. The nonet is Oatts: saxophone; Terell Stafford: trumpet; Tim Brey: piano; Sam Harris: piano; Anwar Marshall: drums; Chris Lewis: saxophone; Josh Lee: saxophone; Nick Lombardelli: multi-instrumentalist; and John Shaw: trumpet.
The opening selection, “Alley Birds,” has a rhythmic motif in the rhythm section that the main melody is built upon and a be-bop-inspired bridge. Oatts solos on his soprano saxophone, his tone is light, and his lines clearly define the harmony through inventive melodic ideas. Next, Stafford takes a melodic ride through the form with a warm tone and a firm grasp of today’s jazz language. Brey takes the lead next on piano, his solo is energetic, and his use of arpeggios is enjoyable and tuneful. Overall, this is a solid start to the date and shows Oatts fine playing and compositional skills.
Richard Rodgers’ “Bewitched” finds Oatts showing off his creative arranging skills as he transforms this Broadway selection into a modern jazz vehicle for exploration. Stafford performs his best solo of the date on this selection, and the background writing is balanced and helps support and push him through his exciting journey. Trombonist Nick Lombardelli also performs a vibrant trombone solo. In addition, the very well-crafted arrangement has a powerful ending. Oatts’ compositions and arrangements frequently have a rhythmic motif in the rhythm section, and this arrangement exemplifies this technique.
Personalities shows that Chris Oatts is a fine saxophonist and composer on the jazz scene today. Oatts is a strong presence in the Philadelphia jazz scene, and with an album like this, he is sure to gain a wider audience and generate excitement about his music.