Drummer Jimmy Cobb, an historically important musician who duly received an NEA Jazz Master award in 2009, needs no introduction. If his only connection to jazz was through Miles Davis and playing on Kind Of Blue in 1959, his reputation would still be assured, but Cobb’s career includes deep connections to John Coltrane and Wes Montgomery as well as most every important leader and jazz group since his five-year tenure with Miles. At 85, Cobb is still making music, most of it very good and with his own bands (Jimmy Cobb’s Mob, “So What” Tribute band) often comprised of intensely creative, younger players.
As part of the launch of Smoke Jazz Club’s excellent new series of live releases, a revived iteration of Cobb’s band called The Original Mob, assembles a former quartet, guitarist Peter Bernstein, pianist Brad Mehldau and bassist John Webber, originally linked to the drummer as students 20 years earlier at The New School in NY. Two things are striking about this album and its line up — although this was recorded at Smoke, Cobb chose not to record with an audience, yet that in-the-club vibe still crackles and shines through the smooth, swinging performances of the players. As for this band, Cobb deliberately evokes a dynamic from one of his early groups with Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Wes Montgomery, which is a nuanced tribute in itself.
The music on The Original Mob is swift and robust and lit with a gentle fire. The mix of solid standards (“Amsterdam After Dark,” (“Sunday In New York,” “Nobody Else but Me”) and originals are rooted in pleasing Latin grooves and easygoing swing. Cobb coaxes subtle percussive rhythms behind Bernstein’s gorgeous chords and the interplay between the guitarist and drummer is generous. It’s fascinating listening to a modernist like Mehldau in a traditional setting as part of Cobb’s band. His playing is relaxed and particularly inspired on “Amsterdam After Dark” and the album’s sole trio number, “Unrequited.” A novel treatment of “Old Devil Moon” illustrates this unit’s cohesion — the melody unspools from Webber’s smoky bass notes, gets picked up by Mehldau then underscored by a tight Caribbean beat from Cobb. Bernstein ties it together and the tune is in full bloom, fully swinging for eight glorious minutes. Cobb refers to Bernstein as a player in the style of Grant Green, but Bernstein is no doppelganger – his solos take flight naturally, held aloft by a sustained groove. This is a fine band making tremendously entertaining music and it’s another ace effort from the folks behind Smoke Jazz Club. (10 tracks; 64 minutes)