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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Kobie Watkins Steps Out as a Leader

Posted By on 10.07.09 at 06:13 PM

Kobie Watkins
  • Kobie Watkins
For much of the current decade, drummer and Chicago native Kobie Watkins—he moved to New York in 2007, then to North Carolina earlier this year—has worked behind some of our city’s best-known jazzers, including guitarist Bobby Broom, pianist Ryan Cohan, and singer Kurt Elling. Since last year he’s been the drummer of choice for Sonny Rollins. You’d expect a sideman as flexible, talented, and experienced as Watkins to come on strong on his first recording as a bandleader—it makes sense that he’d want to show off everything he can do when he’s calling the shots.

Unfortunately that recording, the recent Involved (Origin), is distractingly schizophernic. Cut during three days in October 2006, it uses a different lineup for each of its ten tracks, which makes the proceedings feel too fussy and premeditated. Early in his career Watkins played contemporary gospel, R & B, and neosoul, and the pieces here that reflect that background—“Expressions,” a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Taboo to Love,” and "Movin' On"—are the weakest, cloying and stale despite Watkins’s own tasteful playing. Where he shines is on hard-driving postbop, which benefits from the presence of players like Broom, Cohan, saxophonist Geof Bradfield, trumpeter Pharez Whitted, bassist Clark Sommers, and pianist Ron Perrillo. Toward the conclusion of the furious “Congo,” after a mean Cohan ostinato, Watkins lets loose with a fearsome display of polyrhythmic invention, rhythmic displacement, and bomb-dropping power.

I’m certain that if Watkins assembles and maintains a working band, it could make an album that would put Involved to shame. It’s by no means a bad record, but its hodgepodge isn’t worthy of the drummer’s skill and class.

On Monday, October 12, Watkins will celebrate the release of Involved with a gig at the Jazz Showcase. The stellar lineup is a perfect setting for his talent: he’s joined by Broom, Sommers, Cohan, Whitted, and saxophonist Jarrad Harris, all of whom play on the recording.

Today’s playlist:

Dupree Bolton, Fireball (Uptown)
Barbara Lynn, Here Is Barbara Lynn (Water)
Günter Müller, Cym_Bowl (Mikroton)
Shantel, Planet Paprika (Crammed Discs)
Deerhunter, Rainwater Cassette Exchange (Kranky)

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