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Jimmy Cobb's So What Band: Albany, February 10, 2011

R.J. DeLuke By

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Jimmy Cobb's So What Band
The Egg,
Albany, USA
February 10, 2011
It's well documented that the music of Miles Davis' seminal Kind of Blue (Columbia) has captivated music fans and musicians since it was born in 1959. The lone surviving member of that legendary band, drummer Jimmy Cobb, has been bringing the music to the live stage again since the 50th anniversary of the recording in 2009.

It hasn't lost its luster. Who, but Cobb, has the true right to be doing this? And he does it with style and class. His band, he now deems the So What Band, basically sticks to all the original arrangements, but each of the artists play their own things. At a recent performance at The Egg, in Albany, New York, the band consisted of trumpeter Jeremy Pelt (Wallace Roney filing that chair until recently), alto saxophonist Vincent Herring, tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson, pianist Larry Willis and bassist Buster Williams. All but Pelt have been working this music on a regular basis with Cobb, so the first question might well be: How well did Pelt fit in?

"The best thing I can do, in tribute to Miles, is play the music, not mimic him," Pelt said, a few days before the show. "What I'm going to bring to it is just me, playing my own personal tribute to Miles, as best I can."

And he was fine. Pelt's influences are more toward Clifford Brown and Booker Little (of course, there's some Miles in the mix too), but that's irrelevant. Pelt is one of the finest trumpeters out there right now, and it's his heart and musicianship that were brought to the project, for a reason. He didn't try to mimic Miles; instead, he played his way, with the right spirit and respect. They all did, which is what makes seeing this group such a joy. If you want replication, put on the album. None of now-deceased artists that made the record would want it that way; neither does Cobb.

The concert kicked off with "So What," giving Pelt a chance to lock his fat tone into the tune's distinctive groove. He was melodic and slick—more Brownie-like. Jackson was, too. Herring was one of the stars of the show, playing with a great bluesy bounce, and the élan that was so pronounced in Julian "Cannonball" Adderley's playing.

One of the key questions about Pelt was how he would fare on the ballads, "Blue In Green" and "Flamenco Sketches" where Miles' muted trumpet is so haunting, soulful, beautiful, ethereal. On those tunes, Pelt placed the trumpet mute right onto the microphone head, as Miles was known to do, and blew notes of heartfelt warmth and concentrated beauty. The sound he affected, using the mike, gave his mute—which thins the normal trumpet sound—a much wider sound. Elegance. He walked the tightrope nicely, getting to the soul of the original, even as his notes were much different to what Miles would have played.

Willis was closer, stylistically, to Wynton Kelly than to Bill Evans, and so his playing never really evoked Evans' impressionistic approach, which so heavily influenced the original recording. Nonetheless, he played with different feels at different times—boppish, bluesy, reflective—all moving the music along. Williams is one of those bassists that fellow musicians love to play with, and he held the music up with his strong, perfect pulse. Even Cobb didn't play exactly as he did on the original record, where he used varied rhythms and feels to propel the session. He didn't solo until the Kind of Blue material was done, and the group jumped into "The Theme," a number that often closed Davis sets during the 1960s.

"All Blues" may, with the possible exception of "So What," be the most played song from the album, by jazz musicians everywhere. So when the group jumped into that 12-bar blues in 6/8 time, all the players were able to rip into it in a relaxed fashion. Pelt's open trumpet was downright regal in its bold and brassy statements, while Herring was agile as ever and Willis was free to spray in soulful statements.

The music of the evening was tight, in the sense of what the group wanted to accomplish—presenting a classic album—and, yet, loose enough for each soloist to tell his own story. An excellent night of music. When the audience seemed unwilling to let them leave, they jumped into "On Green Dolphin Street" and blew the lid off a chestnut that was a Davis staple back in the day. It was a good way to bow out for this fine band. Cobb—certainly one of the grand old men of the trap set—still sounds (and looks) as good as hell and is to be commended for keeping this music alive.

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