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Playing on Miles Davis’ 1959 touchstone Kind of Blue — which remains the best-selling jazz album of all time — would give 99.9% of drummers a swollen ego, to put it lightly. Not Jimmy Cobb. His performances on that album are understated, unshowy. Decades later, despite directing groups filled with jazz aristocracy, he shied away from calling himself a “bandleader.” At times, he didn’t deem himself qualified to even teach the drums.
“I’ve been asked to teach but I don’t really have the patience. I don’t think I’ve got the academic background,” Cobb told Modern Drummer in 1979. “Although,” he allowed, “there’s probably something I could teach somebody.”
As usual, Cobb buried the lede: his playing had something to teach everybody, and those lessons aren’t exclusive to even the heralded Kind of Blue. Over a career that spanned more than 60 years, Cobb worked with the best of the best: singer Dinah Washington, tenor saxophonists John Coltrane and Joe Henderson, trumpeters Nat Adderley and Kenny Dorham, pianist Wynton Kelly, scores of others. His Rolodex never kept him from engendering a reputation as the meek man of jazz.
Cobb’s humble spirit — not to mention the exquisite tick-tock of his ride cymbal — lives on in the jazz world’s collective memory. The drummer and 2009 NEA Jazz Masters award recipient died Sunday (May 24) after a battle with lung cancer as reported by NPR. He was 91.
The album Cobb once described as “made in heaven” wouldn’t have been possible without his gossamer touch and pinpoint timing. “I don’t think Kind of Blue would have been the record it was if it wasn’t for the drummer,” Eleana argued during a 2009 panel at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. (“You would say that,” Cobb retorted in good humor.) But his work with Davis was only the tip of the iceberg — dozens of jazz giants made even more powerful music because he was behind the kit.
If you’re so inclined, pour something strong and (re)absorb Kind of Blue in Cobb’s memory. Hear how the musicians seem to hover a few inches in the air. Then, once “Flamenco Sketches” simmers to a close and the spell is complete, dive deeper into Cobb’s legacy with the help of these cuts.
Cannonball Adderley, “Spectacular” from Sophisticated Swing
Davis first beheld Adderley at Café Bohemia in 1955, the year the saxophonist first arrived in New York. “Cannonball just f—ed me up the way he played the blues and nobody had ever heard of him,” he glowed in 1989’s Miles — The Autobiography. “Everybody knew right away that this big motherf—er was one of the best players around.”
A few years later, Adderley and Cobb would join Davis’s sextet, an arrangement that culminated in Kind of Blue. Cobb partly ramped up to that gig by drumming on Adderley’s early album Sophisticated Swing, which also features the altoist’s brother Nat Adderley (who appears here on cornet), pianist Junior Mance, and bassist Sam Jones.
There are things about Sophisticated Swing that sound young: Adderley would develop more finesse and restraint by the following year’s Somethin’ Else, his masterpiece as a leader, and Cobb plays showily — an adjective which doesn’t apply to his later playing. That said, their speedy rendition of Jones’s “Spectacular” is a lot of fun, if only to hear Cobb play with a degree more flash than is typically associated with him.
Paul Chambers, “Ease It” from Go
The long-out-of-print Go is fairly straightforward hard bop with two possible points of attraction: it is a rare (if not the only) pairing of Adderley and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and its even split between Cobb and “Philly” Joe Jones on drums. True to its title, the album moves — this quintet led by bassist Paul Chambers sounds appropriately muscular and vigorous.
If the harder end of Cobb’s playing is your thing, scoop up one of the (at press time) two copies of Go available on Discogs. Out of its mix of standards (“There Is No Greater Love,” “Just Friends,” “I Got Rhythm”) and originals (among them Adderley’s “Awful Mean”), “Ease It,” which was written by Chambers, is the ideal vehicle for Cobb to bury the accelerator.
Wynton Kelly (Trio and Sextet), “Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise” from Kelly Blue
Post-Kind of Blue, Chambers, Kelly, and Cobb continued to work together as a trio and in other groups until Chambers’ 1969 death from tuberculosis at only 33. (Kelly died following an epileptic seizure in 1971.)
The pianist’s excellent Kelly Blue, which features that trio both a la carte and expanded into a sextet with Nat Adderley, tenor saxophonist Benny Golson and flutist Bobby Jaspar, serves as a reminder of what this rhythmic dream-team could have gone on to achieve if tragedy didn’t become its lot.
On the trio’s version of “Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise,” which was originally composed by Sigmund Romberg with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, Cobb fully settles into sumptuous balladry. While examples of this abound, this take, which features his trademark quarter-notes on the ride, is merely a highly pleasing one.
Miles Davis Sextet, “Teo” from Someday My Prince Will Come
Davis clearly saw Cobb as fit to follow him in an experimental direction after Kind of Blue. He also appeared on its 1960 followup Sketches of Spain, which featured shades of flamenco and classical music and, to some critics, had little to do with jazz. (“It’s music, and I like it,” Davis famously replied to a critic in 1960. “I’ll play anything I take a fancy to.”)
Despite Sketches of Spain being a monumental achievement, Cobb is more incidental on the album than he is on Blue. Instead of propelling the music, he adorns its edges, entwined with percussionists Elvin Jones and Jose Mangual while the horn section assumes center stage.
Rather, if you want to follow Cobb’s development after Blue, the simple, seductive Someday My Prince Will Come is the proper next step. “Teo,” which Davis named after the album’s visionary producer Teo Macero, bounds along on Cobb’s sassy sidesticks-and-toms groove, which underlines the album’s romantic air.
John Coltrane, “Little Old Lady” from Coltrane Jazz
Among the ways Cobb followed the rest of the Kind of Blue musicians as they headed in separate directions: he drummed on a handful of John Coltrane’s most underrated mid-period albums. 1963’s Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane, Coltrane’s sole album with the guitarist, is a must-hear, but the two co-headliners grab most of the attention.
Coltrane Jazz, which also features Cobb, doesn’t rip apart the rulebook like its 1960 predecessor Giant Steps, but it sheds light on what a future between Coltrane and Cobb would have sounded like if the saxophonist wasn’t so hellbent on constant forward momentum.
Their version of the Hoagy Carmichael/Stanley Adams tune “Little Old Lady,” which features Kelly and Chambers, doesn’t need to be particularly groundbreaking to elicit joy; Cobb’s stone-skipping shuffle gladdens all by itself.
Pepper Adams Donald Byrd Quintet, “I’m An Old Cowhand” from Out of This World
Saxophonist Pepper Adams and Byrd’s debut album as co-leaders, 1960’s Motor City Scene, is a must-have. Its follow-up Out of This World, which is billed to their quintet, features more rock-solid bop where that came from, even if a very young Herbie Hancock sounds a tad lost in the shuffle.
The veterans in the room sound well-oiled, though, whether channeling material by Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen (“Out of This World”), Duke Ellington, John Latouche and Billy Strayhorn (“Day Dreams”) or Byrd himself (“Curro’s,” “Bird House”).
Mercer’s old cowboy tune “I’m An Old Cowhand (From the Rio Grande)” has a long and storied history as a jazz standard — dial-up Sonny Rollins’ version from 1957’s “Way Out West” if you want a laugh. Here, with Cobb’s help, it’s a springboard for pros to do their thing.
Joe Henderson With the Wynton Kelly Trio, “The Theme” from Four!
More primo Kelly, Chambers and Cobb here, abetted by one of the all-time greats of the tenor saxophone. By 1968, the jazz form had long been stretched to its breaking point, and while Four! never tips into bedlam, Henderson’s light-speed runs skirt the edges of the bop form.
Henderson’s satisfying middle-ground as a player — breathtakingly technical and raw, yet never overdoing it with needless skronk — works well with Cobb’s style. On their version of Miles Davis’s “The Theme,” Cobb swings like a hammer, proving he’s not just the feather-light sound-painter of Kind of Blue fame.
Nat Adderley Quintet, “I’ll Remember April” from We Remember Cannon
Cannonball Adderley, one of the unquestioned titans of his instrument, died in 1975 after suffering a debilitating stroke that left him paralyzed. “Nat was the fire, and Cannonball was the music,” Cobb stated during the Smithsonian talk. “They was like real killers together.”
More than a decade after his death, the Nat Adderley Quintet — featuring Cobb, alto saxophonist Vincent Herring, pianist Arthur Resnick, and bassist Walter Booker — performed a set of tunes in the late Adderley’s wheelhouse at the Moonwalker in Switzerland.
It kicks off with a combustible version of Gene DePaul’s standard “I’ll Remember April,” which all involved — Nat especially — lay into like a soul transmission. One killer to another.
Joey DeFrancesco, “Wonderful Wonderful” from Wonderful! Wonderful!
Cobb remained undimmed into his eighth decade on Earth, joining up with Hammond B-3 master Joey DeFrancesco and the late guitar great Larry Coryell — who is sometimes called the “Godfather of Fusion” — for the excellent 2012 team-up Wonderful! Wonderful!.
Despite being twice his leader’s age, Cobb stays eminently tasteful and facilitative, never stealing the show even as his tapping quarter-notes become machine-gun eighths. The all-for-one vibe extends to the song titles: Coryell wrote the waltz “Joey D” in tribute to the organist and “JLJ Blues” combines the names of each member.
DeFrancesco’s original “Wonderful Wonderful” begins the program, with Cobb stonily tapping out its chord changes on the ride. So begins this love-fest between three multigenerational musicians who clearly had a well of respect between them.
Jimmy Cobb, “Blood Wolf Moon Blues” from This I Dig of You
By the end of Cobb’s life, he hadn’t seen a dime of royalties from Kind of Blue and had to keep performing to make ends meet. (This year, his daughter Serena started a GoFundMe due to his mounting medical bills.) Despite all this, something profound had been happening in his final act.
The drum legend who once didn’t think he could teach had been doing just that, collaborating with younger musicians such as pianist Brad Mehldau, who had been taught by Cobb at the New School and played in the first edition of his band Cobb’s Mob. He had also mentored heavyweights like bassist Christian McBride and the late trumpeter Roy Hargrove.
Cobb’s final two albums as a leader, 2014’s The Original Mob and 2019’s This I Dig Of You, reflect his transformation into an elder statesman — a mantle he was once reluctant to take up. The former features Mehldau, guitarist Peter Bernstein, and bassist John Webber; the latter features the late Harold Mabern on piano.
“Mentally and spiritually my father is as youthful and energetic as ever,” his daughter wrote on the GoFundMe as she lamented his physical struggles. But nothing about This I Dig of You suggests a man in his nineties on drums; on “Blood Wolf Moon Blues,” he’s as weighty a pendulum as ever, adding sly shuffles that burble from beneath.
It’s safe to say that Cobb left us knowing he had a lot to offer. “I found that I can share what I do know,” he revealed to JazzTimes in 2003. “Students appreciate what it is that I can tell them about, even if it’s just them wanting to know my history of how I came to do what I’m doing and what did I do to try to get there.”
And even if you’ve never touched a drumkit, the modesty and humility in Cobb’s music in life is applicable to anybody. In any regard, what a teacher. Made in heaven, indeed.
The post Beyond Kind Of Blue: 10 Under-The-Radar Drum Performances By Jimmy Cobb You Need To Hear appeared first on Discogs Blog.
Rewind is a review series, published in partnership with Resident Advisor, that dips into electronic music’s archives to dust off music from decades past.
Released on May 23rd 2000, Luomo’s Vocalcity was a landmark in the microhouse/minimal sound that dominated clubs in the early years of the 21st century. The album got a re-release in 2004 while still heavily in rotation, having become one of the scene’s most notable and beloved crossovers (We should know: in 2009, Resident Advisor named it the 13th best album of the 2000s). Microhouse might rest dormant in the electronic music zeitgeist, but does Vocalcity still hold its magic 20 years down the line? Read on to find out.
The relationship between Vocalcity and time is slippery. The six songs seem to go in a flash, even though only one of them clocks in under ten minutes (and even then, by a mere three seconds). Despite the microhouse tag that suggests calculated austerity, there is a non-stop subliminal bustle that presents a million stories for your ears to follow. We hear a gasp immediately on the opener, but the vocal it’s taken from only kicks in after the fifth minute. That’s punctual compared to the rest of the record, where the hook or centrepiece moment doesn’t arrive until the final third of the track. Listening back to the 20th anniversary reissue of Vocalcity, one thing about time leaps out: the album remains utterly unaged by it.
Vocalcity is both an entry point and an outlier,
The least challenging and most immediately satisfying of anything Sasu Ripatti has ever made. Ripatti––whose alias Vladislav Delay became so predominant, he was once prevented from flying to Japan for a show because the promoter had sent him a boarding pass with V. Delay printed on it––outright rejects his most popular record and dance culture at large. Reviews at the time framed Vocalcity through a prism of allure, conjuring easy pastiches: the haircuts, the sunglasses, the insouciance. Perhaps this calcified the distaste that Ripatti, an anti-clubber by trade, developed for it. Yet for anyone too young or too geographically removed from the epicentre of all that, Vocalcity circulated as the gold standard of a sound that was inviting, elastic, punchy, human and hair-raisingly tactile; an infinity pool of sounds to luxuriate in.
When Vocalcity was first released on May 23rd, 2000, it was ahead of the pack. Toward the end of the ’90s, there was a subset of musicians who scratched at the seams of digital technology and recast the fragments into different forms. Markus Popp’s work in Microstoria and Oval were early standouts, but this was a bubble and not yet a full-blown movement. Ripatti wasn’t focused exclusively on Luomo by any means: between 1999 and 2001 he released eight full-lengths across numerous aliases. Though Multila was a latter-day highlight of dub techno powerhouse Chain Reaction, the lion’s share went to Force Inc. and its family of sub-labels, including Force Tracks and Mille Plateaux, whose Clicks & Cuts compilation series began in January 2000, featuring an 11-minute Vladislav Delay song.
Force Inc. folded in 2004, so Ripatti reissued Vocalcity on his own Huume imprint the following year.
By then, what we take as received history had fallen in line. Landmark releases had entered the field: Ricardo Villalobos’s Alcachofa, Akufen’s My Way, MRI’s All That Glitters, Jan Jelinek’s Loop-Finding-Jazz-Records, Isolée’s Rest and Michael Mayer’s Immer mix, as well as numerous compilations and standalone club hits. The etymology had changed and the sound had evolved, but by now this was an internationally renowned scene with a recognizable vibe, style, and code—one that carried Vocalcity‘s hallmarks.
A sticker on the initial pressing of Vocalcity boldly proclaimed it as “The Next Chapter In House,” and no matter Ripatti’s apprehensions, the album lived up its billing. It is a triumph of alchemy, a reinforced composite of all the best parts of music that has gone before it. Yes, there is the technical trickery of clicks & cuts, but it is also resolutely soulful, with bubblewrap-popping funkiness and basslines that can step to any deep house hit you care to name. The music implies constant motion, with countless effects, licks, and synth trills running about under the surface. Johanna Iivanainen’s vocals light up the record as Dajae would do for Cajmere. The micro-minimal boom put a lot of purists’ backs up at the time but relistening today, Vocalcity stands in celebration of house, rather than defiance of it.
I like to see the album as tracing the arc of a night out gone sour, basically channeled into an hourlong highlights reel. The busy churn of “Market” drops us into the trippiest moments of a candyflipping bender when clocks have melted and compasses have begun to spin. The swinging groove brings to mind a particularly sharp DJ in the pocket, but the vibe is not quite right. As a voice floats over from the bar and comes into definition, we’re being told: “There’s nothing in the world that you can do / There’s nothing that I need from you / I take everything from you.” The vocals are luxe, feminine, and in control. On “Synkro,” there is a countering plea, this time male: “I’ve / got / to / keep / on / moving / with / you.” The rhythm, once lithe and linear, is now pockmarked by slippage. The beat on “The Right Wing” is stilled outright for stretches, as if we’re being readied for lights up. Then, some mumbled words and a maudlin drift accompanied by halogen buzz. The tingles at the end of a night. Off to coat check.
We collapse through the front door and roll into the after-scene of “Tessio,” Vocalcity‘s crown jewel.
Admittance of joyless relationships excuses made about missed calls, pledges of half-hearted platitudes: the song feels acutely like a hand slipping out of grasp. Alloying the album’s most slow-cresting, euphoric, and memorable breakdown with the apologetic refrain of, “Baby, it’s OK / We’ll make it better,” is a canny play on Ripatti’s part. It’s regarded as one of house music’s all-time heartbreakers for a reason. Following that, “She-Center” is a wind-down, incense burning and tinted with longing melancholy. Jazzy keys noodle about as daylight creeps in, before the blinds shut and we’re done.
The next Luomo album, 2003’s The Present Lover, was a major label misadventure that confirmed Ripatti’s biases about the vacuity of the industry. BMG wanted to max out their credit card at the minimal bank of cool; he wanted none of it. In 2010, he called Vocalcity his least favourite LP, saying that he was “sick of the stigma it gave and left for the whole project.” Has he turned a corner since? The unflattened difficulty curve of his discography suggests otherwise. 2020’s Rakka is as unyielding and harsh as his Finnish black metal contemporaries. It’s hard to place that next to the chic Vocalcity and imagine them coming from the same person, let alone the same planet.
Yet Vocalcity sounds necessary in 2020. For one, it’s a perfectly executed scene of something the majority of the world can’t access right now. It could also provide a guide to what comes next. There had been a growing chatter in house and techno circles before this global shutout that the ultra-massive arena sound has lost all sense of purpose, and that it was time to come down to earth again. That feels all the more true now. To nick a phrase from Orange Juice, if ever there was an opportune time to strip it back and start again, now is it. Perhaps micro 2.0 is the restarting point, and we build back out from there (you can already hear echoes of the mid-tempo tenderness and ASMR vocals in DJ Python’s Mas Amable, to pick one example). If the future of electronic music sounds as warm, generous and human as Vocalcity, we should move with it and see where things lead.
16-year-old Fang Zhang has won the BBC Young Musician Percussion Final, and will progress through to the semi-final of the competition where he will be up against pianist Thomas Luke, oboist Ewan Miller and French horn player Annemarie Federle, as well as the winner of the Strings Final, which will be broadcast next weekend.
Fang Zhang moved to the UK from China to study at Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester. At the Percussion Final, he performed Piazzolla’s much-loved Libertango, arranged for marimba and piano by Nunoya, and Csaba Zoltán Marján’s Niflheim for solo marimba. He was praised for his lightness of touch and broad dynamic range.
He was up against four other finalists including 16-year-old Lewis Kentaro Isaacs, who currently attends the Purcell School. He performed John Psathas’s One Study One Summer, a work for mixed percussion including marimba, cymbals and pots and pans. He also played Pius Cheung’s Etude in E minor for solo marimba.
17-year-old Alexander Pullen returned to the competition having reached the Percussion Final in 2018. Since competing last time, he has started as Eton College as a music scholar. He commissioned a new work to perform at this year’s competition: Crystal Projections by Jago Thornton, Eton College’s composer in residence. He paired this new piece with Lynn Glassock’s Motion for mixed percussion.
Another returner to the competition was 18-year-old Toril Azzalini-Machecler, who studies at the Junior Department of the Royal College of Music. He performed Le corps à corps by Aperghis, a piece for Zarb (a Persian drum) and voice and featured fast, frenetic outbursts in French.
18-year-old Isaac Harari from the Latymer School in London also attends the Junior Department of the Royal College of Music on weekends and shares a teacher with fellow finalist Toril Azzalini-Machecler. His programme included the first movement of Sergei Golovko’s Russian Marimba Concerto and Michio Kitazume’s Side by Side for various drums.
The Percussion Final judging panel included Simone Rebello, director of percussion at the Royal Northern College of Music, and Julian Warburton, professor of percussion at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. Angela Dixon returned to the panel as chair of all the category finals.
Presenter Anna Lapwood was joined on this week’s programme by Owen Gunnell, who won the Percussion Final in 2000.
This week’s instalment of Jess Gillam’s regular ‘in conversations’ series was with BBC Young Musician 2010 Percussion winner Lucy Landymore, who, since winning, has gone on to perform in Hans Zimmer’s orchestra on tour.
The semi-final and grand final are scheduled to take place in autumn.
On Sunday 31 May, the Strings Final will take place, with three violinists, a cellist and harpist in the line-up.