Perhaps the title to drummer Kobie Watkins' debut, Involved, makes reference to the Chicago native's involvement with some of the highest profile jazz artists around. A regular in the bands of saxophonist Sonny Rollins, guitarist Bobby Broom, and vocalist Kurt Elling, Watkins has proven himself a stand-out accompanist, possessing a confident blend of fire and sensitivity. With a slew of fellow Chicagoans, including Broom, trumpeter Pharez Whitted, and saxophonist Geof Bradfield, Watkins blends straight-ahead blowing and unabashed funk to create an energized set of groove-heavy jazz.
Thoughtful covers of Stevie Wonder's "Taboo To Love" and Kenny Dorham's "Short Story," featuring a blistering solo by Whitted, sit well with original compositions by Watkins, saxophonist Jarrard Harris, pianist Ryan Cohen, and producer Harold Mims. Watkins' "Expressions" and "Sonny Like" contain clever themes with infectious, multi-layered rhythms. The leader's two other tunes on the disc, "Affectious" and "Movin' On," feature the same qualities with a more laidback vibe due in part to Harris's mellow soprano saxophone.
While Watkins' drumming is not the front-and-center focus of the disc, his dominating presence is undeniable on the up-tempo burners "Spastic" and "Third Pew." The latter is a gospel-meets-bebop rampage featuring Whitted, trombonist Terris Ransom, and pianist/organist James Austin. Mim's odd-metered, Afro-Cuban influenced "Congo" showcases the multi-faceted drummer's fearless approach to polyphonic exploration.
With a release as stunning as Involved - along with a recent relocation to New York - Watkins is likely to further his appeal as a drummer and composer worthy of wide recognition.