Jimmy Cobb's So What Band Covers Kind of Blue: 9.Nov.09 - Barcelona

Legendary drummer Jimmy Cobb's So What Band paid tribute to Miles Davis' Kind of Blue on its 50th birthday. It was a fitting tribute to the most cherished album in jazz.

On August 17, 1959, Columbia Records issued what would become one of the best-selling and most influential recordings in jazz. Over the next half-century, Miles Davis's Kind of Blue, featuring a cadre of up and coming jazz stars including those named Coltrane, Evans, and Cannonball, wriggled its way into nearly every aspect of popular culture -- filling in the backgrounds of numerous movies and TV shows, seeping into the music collections of every romantically-inclined college student, and rising to the top of countless all-time greatest lists. As Ashley Kahn describes, in the introduction to his excellent and exhaustive book, Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece, people seem to vividly remember the first time they heard Kind of Blue in the same way that they remember significant life events. The album means that much -- to jazz, to music, to popular culture, and to history.

It's no surprise, then, that the centerpiece for the 41st Barcelona International Jazz Festival should be the 50th anniversary of this landmark piece of American musical history, with a number of musical tributes by artists from around the globe. The most significant of these tributes in the month-long festival was the November 9 concert by drummer Jimmy Cobb's So What Band.

Cobb, at 80 years of age and the only musician from the Kind of Blue sessions that is still living today, is perhaps the least known of the album's legendary cast of stars. Whether due to personal style or personality, or simply due to the enormous personalities of Davis and his other bandmates, Cobb's stick work on Kind of Blue is the least discussed and most underrated piece of the album's deceptively simple musical puzzle. In hindsight, Cobb seems like the only true choice for Kind of Blue. His subtle, subdued polyrhythms, exquisite brushwork, and lockstep time-keeping are the record's bedrock, the foundation from which all the magic takes place.

The grand setting for Cobb's performace was a perfect match for Kind of Blue. The Palau de la Música Catalana is perhaps the most stunning Modernista edifice in a city teeming with them. The ceiling, with its myriad stained glass faces, threatens to drop like a single tear onto the eager audience. Brightly colored tile mosaics sweep across the theater’s walls, insulating you from the hustle and bustle of Barcelona's neon nightlife. An enormous stampede of horses hangs ominously over the stage. All in all, it's the perfect stage on which to take stock of a jazz masterpiece.

Despite a perfect setting, an eager audience, and superior musicians, the actual concert, entitled “Kind of Blue @ 50” -- which started with an up tempo version of "So What", ended with Davis's arrangement of the Thelonius Monk standard "'Round Midnight", and included by-the-book versions of the four remaining tunes on Kind of Blue -- was forgettable. The star-studded band -- Buster Williams on bass, Larry Willis on piano, Javon Jackson on tenor saxophone, Vincent Herring on alto saxophone, Wallace Roney on trumpet, and Cobb on drums -- was never completely in sync, and seemed genuinely afraid to explore Davis's sparse compositions. "So What" and "All Blues" felt rushed. Transitions between solos on the remaining tunes were shaky, especially considering these musicians have been performing these songs together since May.

Throughout the concert, Roney, Jackson, and Herring would walk to the side of the enormous stage whenever they weren't playing, and these roundtrips distracted from the music, which most of us are used to hearing in clubs with no stage at all or lounges with stages barely big enough to fit six musicians. Only Roney's work on "Blue in Green" and Cobb's solo on "Flamenco Sketches" -- his only solo of the night -- seemed to exude passion for the music. None of the musicians addressed the audience in the sold out hall until the 90-minute show's conclusion, when the fit-looking Cobb, dressed in suspenders and a baseball cap, sheepishly thanked the audience for its extended ovation. There were no stories from Roney about his studies with Davis in the ‘80s, from Jackson about the influence Davis's music has had on his playing, or from Cobb about working with Davis during the Kind of Blue sessions. Perhaps fittingly, there was just the music.

In hindsight, any performance of Kind of Blue, especially one that closely adheres to the album's arrangements, is bound to be disappointing. As listeners, we've had 50 years to inhale every note, every harmony, every chord change (of which there are comparatively few) on the recording. Even the mistakes -- those glorious missteps -- like Davis's apparent slip-up 2 minutes and 13 seconds into "So What", have come to be cherished and attributed to musicians finding their footing on the wholly new and rocky terrain of what would come to be called modal jazz, what would lay the ground work for the free jazz and fusion and jam bands and classical minimalists and movie music to come. So it seems unlikely that any performance of the music on Kind of Blue could live up to the original recording -- the best a musician can do, and what Cobb's band certainly accomplished, is to evoke in the listener that feeling that he or she had when he or she first heard Chambers’s introductory bass phrase on "So What" as recorded way back in 1959. And at the end of the night at the Palau de la Música Catalana, uproarious applause rained down upon not a performance, but the artistic legacy of what one musician and his bandmates did some 50 years ago.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.