As the Smoke Sessions list of titles continues to grow, so too do we get to check out some of the country's greatest drummer. The much in-demand Joe Farnsworth
has been featured on the label's releases by Harold Mabern
and David Hazeltine
. Furthermore, one of the most recent titles is a headlining date for the legendary Louis Hayes
. Now, comes along a new set that puts the spotlight on renowned drummer Jimmy Cobb
, a gentleman that for most of his career worked almost exclusively as a sideman. However, since the late '90s, Cobb has had more than several occasions to step out as a leader with several versions of an ensemble he calls Cobb's Mob.
So the story goes, the original line up of Cobb's Mob mentioned in the title goes back some 20 years when the drummer worked with pianist Brad Mehldau
, bassist John Webber
, and guitarist Peter Bernstein
at The Village Gate. Since each musician is a leader in their own right and quite busy, it's no surprise that the opportunities to work with Cobb have been limited in the ensuing years. That's what makes this album so special.
It should be noted that unlike all the previous releases from Smoke Sessions, this date was not recorded before a live audience. Instead, the tables were removed and things were set up like a studio session. Cobb mentions in the liners that it reminded him of recording in the home of Rudy Van Gelder back in the '50s when the living room served as the studio. The overall sound seems lazar etched, but with a sense of warmth and just the right amount of reverberation to make things sound natural. In fact, Cobb's drums have rarely sounded better.
The repertoire is nicely balanced between choice standards and originals by Cobb, Bernstein, Mehldau, and Webber. There are also some fine solos from Cobb and he trades fours on occasion, sounding particularly musical on "Sunday in New York." It is also a treat to hear Mehldau away from the introverted type of performances that constitute much of his work as a leader. On his original piece, "Unrequited," Bernstein drops out and the pianist delivers a piquant bossa that ever so tastefully integrates bebop lines with classically-inspired runs.
Bernstein finds his own time in the spotlight, sounding particularly fine on "Composition 101," where he delivers the melody in the Blue Note style of Grant Green, then goes on to weave some wonderful lines that span the upper and lower registers of the guitar. The guitarist's own "Minor Blues" is the type of engaging waltz tempo that has become somewhat of his own trademark. It is set off nicely against the rest of the program, which is made up of medium to brisk swingers.
Much has been made lately of the idea that jazz has to somehow eschew key elements of its identity to mature and advance itself. Cobb and crew create the kind of timeless and rewarding jazz that satisfies on so many levels and yet is accessible enough for even the most neophyte listeners. If that isn't advancing the art form, then I don't know what is.