Kobie Watkins is another fine musician who is new to me. Listening to this album I'm not quite sure why he hasn't come to my attention before. Watkins is a native of Chicago, Illinois. Music has been in his blood from an early age when he listened to his father playing drums in the church. Over the years he has progressed to become an eminent drummer/percussionist and educator.
Watkins has worked and/or recorded with some of the best musicians around including Joe Lovano, Branford Marsalis, Bob Mintzer, Jim Hall and Kurt Elling to name just a few. He's also worked with Gospel singers, R&B and Neo Soul artists. This wide-ranging experience informs his own playing.
His Grouptet consists of Aaron Miller on bass, Justin Nielsen on piano and Fender Rhodes, Micah Stevens on guitar, Ryan Nielsen on trumpet and flugelhorn and Jonathan Armstrong on tenor and soprano saxophones. Together they form a hard-hitting group. These are musicians at the top of their game playing straight-ahead contemporary jazz of the highest order.
The drummer released his debut under his own name in 2009. This is his second release and its somewhat different from his first outing as leader. The album consists of nine original compositions contributed by various members of the band, including the leader himself together with an unusual take on Dizzy Gillespie's 'Manteca'.
On more than one occasion I'm put in mind of latter-day Jazz Messengers. This group has a similar hard bop style and, of course, the Messengers had a drummer as a leader. In keeping with Art Blakey's method of employing the best young musicians, the guitarist here, Micah Stevens, looks to be very young indeed with his playing belying his years.
This album is certainly not simply a showcase for Watkins' drumming, although that quite naturally underpins everything. It is more a feature for his composing talents and those of his band-mates. What comes across to me is the confidence with which the band performs.
Stand-out tracks for me are 'Movement' with its initial Latin theme where the saxophonist and trumpeter acquit themselves very well. We also get a lovely piano feature and the leader makes his mark too.
'Six Moods' is a wonderful slower-paced piece. The tempo increases again for 'Ga-Rum-Ban'. Another favourite is 'Inner Motion' opening with a feature for the bassist and including an eloquent solo from the Fender Rhodes. Similar comments apply to 'Rivet' which is possibly my favourite track. But then we get the fun-sounding MBDC which is quite simply in a different league.
The album closes in a pensive mood with 'Prayer for Peace' and I can think of no better way to conclude this rich and varied album. Watkins has certainly more than fulfilled the promise of his first album and I for one look forward to album number three.