Drummer Kobie Watkins, born and raised in Chicago, has toured and recorded with a number of well-known musicians like Sonny Rollins, Bobby Broom (he plays on the three Bobby Broom albums which I have in my collection), Kurt Elling, Branford Marsalis and Joe Lovano. He presents here his first album with his Grouptet.
The Kobie Watkins Grouptet includes:
Kobie Watkins - drums
Justin Nielsen - piano
Ryan Nielsen - trumpet
Jonathan Armstrong - saxophone
Aaron Miller - bass
The album was released on May 15 and contains nine originals, along with a great new arrangement of 'Manteca.'
The first song on the album is called "Catch This" and starts with an easy latin groove with a clear focus on the percussive playing of Kobie. The first solo goes to the trumpet followed by the bass with nice kicks from the horns, all very easy and laid-back. Dynamics increase a little with the piano and saxophone solo. Then at around 5:00 min an extensive latin outro starts and the jazz band sounds now like a salsa band. Kobie told me that "... the end section and the overall energy is from a place I grew up as an upcoming professional in and throughout Chicago. The latin late nights in the latin clubs where music, dance and language never slept. "
The album continues with "The City". This is my first highlight of the album. A pushing groove by Kobie, a beautiful melody perfectly arranged in two voices and great modal solos, especially by Justin Nielsen on piano leave no doubt that we have here a band of true masters at work. Kobie explained me that this song is about his adventurous feelings when traveling and coming into The City.
"The groove is something I created, working on a Sonny Rollins tune. Playing with him when I created this tune inspired how I arranged the song."
He also told me this song could last for hours, the modal form leaves plenty of space for the musicians to improvise extensively. On the album unfortunately the fun is over after 7:20 mins.
The next song is called "Movement" and it is the title song of the album. This song is composed around a bass line Kobie wrote in 2007. It starts polyrhythmic, as Kobie said in an "afrocentric feeling" and then after 2 mins it changes to an elegiac unaccompanied piano solo that gets more and more intensive, drums, bass and later the whole band steps in and plays again briefly the theme. The next solo part is a duet between saxophone and Ryan Nielsen on flugelhorn. The outro of the tune is a perfect drum solo with kicks form the band.
"Six Moods", the next tune is a ballad in 6/8 that changes to 5/4. A great melody and nice harmonic changes. Beautiful solos by piano, saxophone and flugelhorn. Kobie wrote this song in 2012 and he started it "... with me singing into my phone while driving a long distance. This was a song created from a somber mood swing... I tend to have from time to time...nothing serious." But no somberness from my point of view, just a great melody and excellent solos.
The album continues with "Ga-Rum-Ban" a fast and furios tune with solos from saxophone, trumpet and a breathtaking piano in dialog with the drums.
"Inner Motion" is the next song and as before, the bass line was the starting point of the composition. A soft song with a complex bass line and a simple melody above. Justin Nielsen plays very tastefully on a Rhodes. Great dynamics in the trumpet and saxophone solos, this song is another highlight of the album.
The album continues with the tune "Rivet". The bass is again the origin of the tune. Kobie told me that this song was created in 2016 during a long drive. And this tune feels like a long drive, very steady even a little bit monotonic, "flowing sound" as Kobie explained.
"MBDC" comes next and unfortunately neither me nor Kobie are able to explain to you what this acronym stands for. The song was written in 2008 while Kobie was in Zimbabwe. It has a very energetic rhythm with a simple melody and eloquent drum fills. Quite remarkable is the saxophone solo in this song where Jonathan Armstrong and Kobie push each other and create great dynamics and incredible energy.
"Falling Upward" is the last original from Kobie Watkins on this album. This tune is based on a pushing groove and it is one more time Jonathan Armstrong who soaks up this energy and plays another astonishing solo. The song closes with soft piano chords and you have the impression of a show coming to an end.
However, there is the encore: "Manteca" by Dizzy Gillespie returns to where we started, to the dancers in the latin clubs where music never sleeps This famous jazz standard starts with a long groove intro. The head is played as a dialog between piano and saxophone, the B part is split between saxophone and trumpet similar to the original version. Great dynamic solos come from piano, saxophone and trumpet before the band returns to the steady groove from the beginning.
And if that is not enough there is another song available on bandcamp. It is called "Prayer for Peace" and was composed by Justin Nielsen. A beautiful and noble ballad with great harmonies and an incredible solo by Ryan Nielsen on flugelhorn.
Not much to say anymore about this album: there is an extraordinary drummer who found congenial musicians and the result is an outstanding album full of energy and positive vibrations.