Name a canonical jazz artist, and chances are Jimmy Cobb has shared a stage or recording studio with them. Starting with his first recordings with Earl Bostic at the tender age of 21 all the way up to his new album This I Dig of You, due out August 16 via Smoke Sessions Records, Cobb has been not just ajazz drummer but the jazz drummer — a musician unmatched in technique and experience.
60 years ago, of course, Cobb played on what wound up becoming the most indelible record in jazz history, Kind Of Blue. This recording, with a band of Cobb’s longtime collaborators — pianist Harold Mabern, guitarist Peter Bernstein, and bassist John Webber — pays tribute to that seminal album by proving that it’s still not yet history. The 90-year-old drummer, after all, is as vital and thoughtful as he ever was as he swings through standards and contemporary compositions by his bandmates alike.
Mabern is Cobb’s oldest friend in the band; they’ve known each other since meeting in Miles Davis’ band in 1963. “It’s not that much different,” Cobb says of playing with Mabern then compared to what it’s like to share a stage today. “We’ve probably both gotten better. I think I have. I know more about it, have had more experience with it.”
Bernstein was one of Cobb’s students at the New School, and introduced him to Webber. They wound up as members of Cobb’s first working band, Cobb’s Mob, alongside Brad Mehldau — the band on Cobb’s first Smoke Sessions album, 2014’s The Original Mob. “He’s one of the originals,” says Webber now. “He’s such a great listener, he hears everything — there are a lot of young drummers on the scene, but I don’t think I can say they’ve surpassed Jimmy in any way.”
The album’s classic, rich swing was recorded with a casualness that recalls the kind of sessions Cobb was booked for during the music’s heyday. “I let them pick the tunes,” Cobb says of his bandmates, who chose from the wide array of songs in the Cobb’s Mob repertoire while focusing on ones that they’d never recorded before. This I Dig of You required no rehearsal, and was recorded in just one session.
But the thing that makes the album so special isn’t the design of the tracklist — it’s the precision and detail the legendary drummer uses to carefully guide each song, responding to and amplifying the soloists in his quartet.
The uptempo opener, Hank Mobley composition “This I Dig of You,” finds Cobb carving out all kinds of fresh rhythmic intricacies in an extended solo that still sounds timeless. Bernstein’s “Blood Wolf Moon Blues,” inspired by recent astronomical events, spotlights the drummer’s inimitable feel underneath groovy solos by Mabern, Bernstein and Webber.
Cobb first recorded “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” with Earl Bostic in 1951; all these years later, ironically, it sounds less sentimental than ever — Bostic’s swooning vibrato replaced by unhurried but never indulgent melodies. Heartfelt ballad “My Old Flame” has a similarly storied place in Cobb’s repertoire — he recorded it with his old flame, Dinah Washington, in 1955. “Like Miles used to say, probably the best time I had with my clothes on,” Cobb remembers, laughing.
Dexter Gordon’s knotty “Cheese Cake” shows that Cobb has lost none of his fire and urgency behind the kit, while Mabern’s “Edward Lee” proves the pianist’s ageless, poignant playing. “Somewhere in the Night” updates the Teri Thornton (another Cobb collaborator) original to a fresher version of jazz at its most romantic and sophisticated.
“Yesterdays,” which Cobb first recorded live with John Coltrane and Stan Getz in 1960, provides another subtle dose of nostalgia with Mabern quoting Duke Ellington and Cobb playing every last angle of the tune, drawing out exactly what still makes it fascinating to play. “I’ll Wait And Pray” is also drawn from Cobb’s catalog with Coltrane (they recorded it together 60 years ago), but Sarah Vaughan (naturally, another Cobb collaborator) had famously recorded the classic tune as well. Wes Montgomery’s “Full House” is another tune that Cobb himself originated, though you wouldn’t know it by listening to how vibrant he sounds over 50 years later.
Ask Cobb about how it feels to have spent over seven decades as one of jazz’s pillars, and he responds in typically self-effacing fashion. “I didn’t really expect to be alive all these years later — I’m thankful that I’ve been able to be here this long,” articulating a sentiment shared by jazz fans the world over.
|Brand||Smoke Sessions Records|
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