Frank Salis and Michael Watson, “Frank Salis Meets Michael Watson” (Independent)

On this album, pianist, guitarist and organist Frank Salis, a native of Switzerland, not only encounters Crescent City vocalist and trombonist Michael Watson, he hooks up with a crew of primarily New Orleans musicians. The collaborative effort has both Salis and Watson taking pens in hands to compose all but two of the selections. With trumpeter Kevin Louis, saxophonist James Martin and drummer AJ Hall, all familiar names on this city’s music scene, plus Hammond B3 organist Beck Burger, the tracks vary stylistically with an occasional underlying touch of New Orleans.

Watson’s fine vocals open “Nighty Night Boy,” and stand as a featured element on the disc. Salis’ piano fits in well with the local feel, as he comps behind the strutting horns and throws in some triplets and trills.

The mood changes to a contemporary soul/blues on the well-written “After-Work Beer,” that finds Martin’s sax wailing. The toe tapping, gospel-tinged, “I Wish I Knew How It Would Be To Be Free,” made famous by the late, great Nina Simone, is an excellent choice to cover and a highlight of the album. Everybody is solidly on the same musical page here, with Louis bringing the perfect support to Watson’s emotional singing.

We get a taste of Salis’ slide guitar capabilities on the minimalistic, country blues of “Mama,” which suffers a bit from an odd horn arrangement, a problem that pops up on occasion. That’s definitely not the case on Lee Morgan’s signature “Sidewinder,” on which everyone knows just where they are goin’, and no one more than drummer Hall.

Frank Salis Meets Michael Watson ends quietly with the two leaders alone together, to be soulfully interrupted by Louis’ expressive trumpet. The song is “The Day I Like to Know,” which seems to lyrically express the aim and sincerity of the album when Watson sings, “Let the music lead the way…”