Drummer/percussionist Gary Hobbs first made his mark in jazz on one of the most dynamic and forward-thinking big band albums of all time, Kenton '76 (Creative World). This little known yet highly influential and critically praised recording features the Kenton band near the end of its life. Of the three Hank Levy charts, two of them, Time for a Change and Decoupage, are brilliant masterpieces exhibiting a wealth of subtle surprise and tonal shadings. For the drummer, these charts are merciless technical quandaries of which precision in the accompaniment of smooth flowing and non-oddmeter-like time patterns, even though they are in odd meters, is of the utmost importance. Without Hobbs behind the set there is serious doubt the simple complexity and warm beauty of these compositional masterpieces would have risen to the elevated position these recordings hold in today's big band canon.
Today Hobbs teaches part-time at The University of Oregon and lives in Vancouver, WA. He has recorded with smooth jazz artists as Tom Grant and Dan Siegel, as well as jazz artists of other styles such as Dave Frishberg and Phil Kelly. This recording, Of My Times, is one of the most stylish, smart, sophisticated and exciting recordings by a drummer-led ensemble since the work of Brian Blade on Blue Note. The 11 tunes, all arranged by Hobbs, feature a revolving array of 14 musicians performing in total support and supplication to the requirements of the music. From the wind ensemble sound of the opening track, Of My Times, to the hip Brecker Brothers-ish/quasi-rap of Hades Ladies, which features some extraordinary trumpet work by Paul Mazzio, right through to the rock-influenced closing track, The Bubba Stomp, Hobbs demonstrates a highly advanced tonal/arranging palette of singular ability. Writing this good and subtly-intricate belongs right up there with Herbie Hancock's The Prisoner (Blue Note) and Joe Lovano's Worlds (Evidence).
As a drummer, Hobbs exhibits his highly advanced abilities in playing clean, careful and precise set-drumming accompaniment to all of these advanced arrangements. Of special note is the too-hip update of the Peggy Lee favorite, Fever. When the music calls for it, however, he is also able to unleash some of the hottest and most tastefully crafted drum solos recorded in a long time. Long Boats, for example, employs pianist Tom Grant, in a decidedly non-smooth jazz vein, along with bassist David Captein. The constantly shifting juxtaposition of various rhythms employed throughout the work ends with Hobbs literally knocking the walls down with a burning solo against the rhythm section's ending polyrhythmic structure. To say the least, Hobbs is not wanting for chops.
There are too many highlights in this recording to give them all their just and deserved reward. Needless to say, this is a recording no serious musician should be without.