Although known as the sole survivor of Miles Davis’ legendary “Kind of Blue” session, Jimmy Cobb still ranks as one of the unsung drummers in mainstream jazz. Yet his contributions to several of Davis’ most lasting late ’50s recordings, including two of the more celebrated collaborations with Gil Evans (“Porgy and Bess,” “Sketches of Spain”) and the timeless “Someday My Prince Will Come,” would alone qualify him for immortality.
Although he seldom doubles as a bandleader, Cobb’s propulsive rhythms and nifty timekeeping provided the heart and soul of the L.A. debut of his new group, the somewhat inaptly named Jimmy Cobb’s Mob, during the first of five nights at the Jazz Bakery.
Giving the set the requisite edge was hot new pianist Brad Mehldau, sitting in for the Mob’s Richard Wylands. Mehldau cut his teeth with the Joshua Redman Quartet and his several LPs on Warner Bros. have generated much ballyhoo in the jazz community.
While Cobb’s latest release, “For the Pure of Heart” on Fable Records, is marked by its rather tame, straight-ahead nature, Mehldau’s contribution offered a looser, more idea-laden setting that was more impressionistic bop than easy listening, more East Village than Central Avenue. Under Cobb’s driving calypso pace on the Hank Mobley composition, “This I Dig of You,” Mehldau artfully lagged behind the beat, clustering his notes to give his solo added weight, and comping with ideas rather than simple chords.
In a set that gathered momentum as the night progressed, Cobb — equipped with a stripped-down, four-piece kit — generated maximum complexity with snare and cymbal, whether providing a steady shimmer or playfully riding the rim. His drumming took on the fluidity of a well-oiled machine, while Bernstein’s guitar maintained a comforting lyricism and Webber’s bass a rock-steady foundation.
This is the kind of jazz that doesn’t necessarily surprise, but reinforces the language with its commanding assurance.