Made in America offers some terrific blowing by alto saxophonist Bobby Watson heading an all-star band with bassist Curtis Lundy, pianist Stephen Scott and drummer Lewis Nash. It also provides a history lesson with each tune, primarily penned by the leader, paying tribute to the accomplishments of Black Americans whose contributions have generally been overlooked or forgotten.
The album begins mightily with Watson’s horn flying high on “The Aviator, ‘For Wendell Pruitt.’” The comprehensive liner notes inform that Pruitt was “a pioneering Black military pilot” who was a distinguished member of the Tuskegee Airmen. Humorously, Watson quotes the familiar bars of “Off we go into the wild blue yonder” from the Air Force anthem on a lyrical tune that swings and hard bops.
Others who Watson chooses to shine the light on include actress Thelma McQueen, who brilliantly played Scarlett O’Hara’s maid in “Gone With the Wind.” The tune, “The Butterfly ‘For Butterfly McQueen’” is a slow, Southern-style, mournful blues with the exceptional pianist Scott evoking the fluttering of wings with a string of light notes. Watson suggests McQueen’s signature, high-pitched voice with his horn.
Lundy’s bass sets the tempo for the compelling “The Real Lone Ranger ‘For Bass Reeves’” with Nash rhythmically complimenting and driving Watson’s and Scott’s solos. Reeves, we learn, was the first Black U.S. Marshall west of the Mississippi. With Watson utilizing a fade out ending, the music gives the sense that Reeves got his man and is riding into the sunset.
The Smoke Session Records label has gained a reputation for its success working with legendary jazz artists performing together. All of the musicians on the album are leaders in their own right and bring their creative, individual intuitions to the group. It’s a plus that they do so while honoring some unheralded, worthy black Americans. Made in America is about the music that was born here and prompts further investigation of those who forwarded the country through their endeavors.