Jimmy Cobb: Marsalis Music Honors Jimmy Cobb

Jimmy Cobb
Marsalis Music Honors Jimmy Cobb

Forget the name of this CD unless you plan to buy it, a plan which I must say would have my wholehearted approval. You should then be able to understand my point about this being a case of the Marsalis Music label being honoured (as Europeans spell that word) by the ever-to-be-admired presence of Jimmy Cobb. He has certainly been honoured too. As the veteran clarinetist Peanuts Hucko once observed at the end of a European jazz festival, he had indeed been greatly honoured by the award to him of the band with which he’d played throughout.

Jimmy Cobb is indeed the last member of the Miles Davis band on the Kind of Blue session who is still drawing breath. Yet anybody who could listen to this set and suppose Cobb merely has some sort of glamour by association — or is notable for simply having been in that band — is neither an ear-witness nor intelligent enough to appreciate quite why Cobb was in it. Nobody was either insulted or flattered by his presence there… be grateful and listen. Celebrity’s commonly accidental, Cobb is still a marvel.

Here, as in that long ago band with which Hucko was honoured, there’s an English presence: Orlando le Fleming now moved to North America and putting in awesome performances. He didn’t have quite the dramatic invitation Dave Holland did to America, but then there is no longer Miles Davis to be both jazzman and celebrity, in a culture where people are listened to too much because they’re famous.

Another immigrant is the altoist, also featured on soprano, the Australian, Andrew Speight, whose arrival in a fairly senior teaching position in the US says something about standards of Australian jazz, along with the international prominence of the veteran cornetist Bob Barnard, one of the great jazz lyricists, and the trombonist Adrian Mears, working out of Germany. On piano, and it’s almost like announcing a rising young talent, there’s Daddy Marsalis, Ellis, following up a recent solo CD with a genuine case of may never have played better. This is a real band, not a regular one, but a case of enormous empathy between four high-class, and by no means narrow musicians. They all have a lot of depth, the leader, Cobb, making a point not so long back of noting how much he learned when very young, from an uncle’s collection of recordings by Robert Johnson, and assorted country bluesmen.

He begins with a warm-up, several bars long, and in swings Speight like a peer of Charles McPherson or Phil Woods, on Henry Mancini’s “Mr. Lucky”. Nice choice of tune, which can also be said about the following: “W.K.”, one of several Cobb efforts represented here, and with some assistance from Dave Matthews in creating what is initially a vehicle for Marsalis. It is a dedication to Wynton Kelly, who played in other Miles Davis bands and deserves to be remembered for more than the personal-friendly side of him which led to his forename being bestowed on one of the Marsalis sprogs. Le Fleming plays a wonderful walking bass, presumably helping Papa Marsalis stay young by demonstrating what can still be done by a very youthful jazzman.

“Eleanor” demonstrates the gift for ballad playing Speight manifests elsewhere. The tune seems to be all Cobb’s own work, which could also be said of the following and brisker “Composition”, in which first a reminiscence of “Lullaby of the Leaves” and then a couple more brazen quotes demonstrate an adolescent friskiness on the pianist’s part. Le Fleming shows his ability to play a literally echoey-sounding solo on bass. John Williams’s “Can You Read My Mind?” has another nice ballad performance by this most impressive altoist before the pianist picks up some pace in his solo, followed by a second alto demonstration. My longtime dislike of “Johnny One Note” does seem to have resided in the words, Lorenz Hart tending to the twee, but such a vehicle he inspired from Richard Rodgers.

Richard Tee’s “Real Time” allows Speight a very profitable outing on soprano. The tune first echoes Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood”, and then elbows that away with echoes of “Bess, You is My Woman Now”. It takes after both its parents, which some younger Marsalises might do. As for “Tell Me”, credited to the pianist on this date, it has a nice theme on good chords, and at a very oblique angle to the original melody which stays hidden during the neo-Monkishness and dancing clipped chords of the piano solo. Le Fleming’s flowing solo reveals the truth, the (Jerome) Kern of the matter: It all goes back to “Old Man River”. And a lot comes back to Jimmy Cobb’s extraordinary accomplishment as drummer, not to mention the real talent for composition Dave Matthews helped him turn to: the blues, with which this set ends. Four young men, two of them with long pasts, two hopefully to be heard much more (on past British radio outings Le Fleming didn’t seem quite so gifted as he blatantly well is here; and this is my first hearing of Speight). By Jove, this CD has been a hugely refreshing, an already several times repeated experience!

RATING 8 / 10