CD Review: The Nightwatchers featuring Rupert Wates and Bartosz Hadala

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By Dave Turner

The latest release from singer-songwriter and guitarist Rupert Wates will sound familiar to his fans, as it is a retrospective of sorts. Yet while it looks back at a selection of his previously released songs, they all receive new treatment by The Nightwatchers duo ( featuring Wates and virtuoso pianist Bartosz Hadala. This self-titled album looks forward as well, particularly as it brings together musical elements that rarely come in one recording.
“If I had to point to a single distinctive element that makes The Nightwatchers project unique it would be the combination of my original songwriting with Bartosz’s improvisational background and approach,” said Wates. “It’s not often you get a mixture of these two elements. Most jazz players play mostly standards in their set rather than original songs, and few original songwriters have the virtuoso jazz chops which Bartosz brings to the project,” he said.
It is the best of both worlds. As the title of the first track says, old fans and new listeners alike will be “Happy to Be Here” from the start.
Based in New York City, Wates has won more than 30 songwriting awards and is also critically acclaimed for his masterful guitar work and compelling vocals. Polish pianist and composer Hadala, now based in Toronto, is highly regarded in the jazz world for playing that Jazzis Ltd. critic Adam Baruch calls “absolutely wonderful, elegant and expressive.”
As The Nightwatchers, Wates and Hadala have performed this repertoire on tour in Poland and Canada, and they have dates in both countries scheduled for fall 2015. This disc was recorded live March 17-18, 2015, at Phase One Studios in Toronto. It gives remote listeners a front-row seat.
The Nightwatchers presents an eclectic mix of songs and styles. “For instance, we move from quite heavy duty 5/4 jazz in Travelling Circus to a pretty straight folk and country sound on Days Of Mercy,” said Wates. At the same time, the progression from song to song unifies them all as organic parts of a whole.
As Wates is known to do with his songs, his collaboration with Hadala as The Nightwatchers draws the listener in with superb musical composition, lyrics, vocal performance and dexterous playing.
Wates is a true wordsmith, in this collection with a single thread that weaves through all of the songs and musical styles, a thread that leads through the correlating breadth of the human condition. “Happy to Be Here” starts the disc with a missive to enjoy the now, to embrace the mystery. “Drowned” begins with a sense of being overwhelmed and hopeless yet ends with a belief that love overcomes all. You can see and feel the sun in “After The Rains.” Being a “Prisoner of the Open Road” is far from an incarceration, at least one that would create a desire to escape. One feels a sense of joy with “Morning Bird.” Then comes a perspective shift to an unanswerable why in “Born to Lose.” The next track, “Standup Comedians” provides, well—comic relief. “Waiting to Begin” examines the tendency to put off one’s true desires and gives a thinking-out-loud reminder to waste time no more. Next, indeed, we’re all part of the “Traveling Circus” in which “all of us are looking for our moment in the sun, turning tricks and pulling stunts, performers everyone.” “Days of Mercy” is a moving look back to America’s dust-bowl era. Equally moving is “Prayer,” which gives a toast and embrace to all throughout past, present and future. Finally, “California” (music composed by Wates’ twin brother Matt) explores memories and regrets and accepts the uncertainty of following a dream while keeping hope alive that it will be “all that and more.” In the last line, Wates sings, “Maybe I’ll find what I’m living for.” He still may be searching, but it is hard to imagine that he has not found what he has been put here for.
This album brings to mind Socrates’ wisdom in his statement, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Wates’ examination of life, and his musical explorations with Hadala, have led to fine recording well worth further examination through many listens time and again.
Dave Turner is a freelance writer, website designer, and pianist and singer-songwriter based in Asheville, North Carolina.