Tag Archives: Review

Kobie Watkins: Movement


Drummer Kobie Watkins, born and raised in Chicago, has toured and recorded with a number of well-known musicians like Sonny RollinsBobby Broom (he plays on the three Bobby Broom albums which I have in my collection)Kurt EllingBranford 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.
he 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.

Here is a nice video from Kobie Watkins with some more information about this album:

And finally a playlist on Spotify:

CD of the Month: Solon McDade – Murals


The CD of this month comes from Canadian double-bass player and composer Solon McDade. Solon basically grew up on stage, he was playing alongside with his parents and siblings in the McDade Family Band, a group that toured Canada with their own brand of Canadiana folk music at festivals and theaters throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

“Murals” is his debut-album as band-leader and it features nine original compositions of him. The album was officially released on April 20 with a celebration in his home town Edmonton AB.

A second eastern Canadian release is planned for Montreal, QC at the Upstairs Jazz Bistro & Bar on July 21st.

The line-up on the album is
Solon McDade – Bass
Donny Kennedy – Alto Saxophone
Jeremiah McDade – Tenor Saxophone (his brother)
Paul Shrofel – Piano
Rich Irwin – Drums

All musicians are well established in the Canadian Jazz scene and have performed with well-known national and international musicians.

Interesting about this line-up is the two saxophones, alto and tenor sax which gives the whole album it’s unique character.

The album starts with the tune “He’s a Problem In The Locker Room”. The tune was written for the Montreal Canadiens hockey defense player P.K. Subban who was (and still is) very popular in Montreal but was traded to Nashville because he  created “problems in the locker room”. The tune starts with a very swinging melody and the first musician featured here is drummer Rich Irwin, the two saxophones take over in an open dialog followed by a piano solo. Bass and drums produce a steady swinging groove for the soloists. We hear a bass and drums solo before the saxophones play the head, so everything very traditionally organized but very dynamically and relaxed played. Great tune and great start into the album.

The second song is called “Buy The Tractor” and Solon told me that this song is about getting older. The melody is played by the saxophones in two voices. It’s a rather soft song and it features Paul Shrofel on piano and both saxophonists, again very dynamically played.

The next tune is my favorite tune on the album. It’s called “Do Airplanes Scratch The Sky” and refers to a quote from Solons daughter about the condensation trails airplanes leave in the sky. The tune starts very slow, rubato. The first solo goes to Solon, he plays very melodically, followed by Donny Kennedy on alto sax. The best part of the album comes when the focus shifts to Jeremiah McDade on tenor sax (at around 5:22). The tenor sax rises from the ground up in the sky and piano and drums follow the saxophone, again great dynamics, great solo and my highlight of the album.

The album continues with “Whatever Whatever”,  a tune where alto sax and piano are featured as soloists.

The fifth song on the album is called “The Ballad Of Sir William Ormerod”. It was written for a fictional character that writer Victoria Coren created in order to entrap people that were crashing funerals with the hopes of free food and drink. Paul Shrofel on piano is the featured player here, he plays a long and beautiful intro. Dynamics increase with the saxophones playing a melody of long notes, but reduces for a bass solo and increases at the end of the bass solo again with both saxophonists improvising and playing together. The great dynamics come again from the rhythm section, especially Rich Irwin on drums knows how to do this perfectly.

“Off The Bed Rose” is about a dog named Rose that used to jump on Solons bed when he first moved to Montreal and could stay with a friend while searching an apartment. He was not used to dogs so he tried to talk the dog off the bed without having to get to close to it. You can hear this phrase in the melody. Very funny. The song is an up-tempo 12-bar blues and played in jam-style, both saxophones and piano plus the drums get their chance to improvise.

The next tune is called “Blues for Sebastian”. It has been written for Solon’s friend Sebastian who has the Blues sometimes. Again very dynamically played with great saxophone and bass solos.

“Ali’s Second Line” comes next and was written for Solos’ wife Alison and uses one of her favorite grooves. Drums, bass and piano push the saxophone players with their groove to peak performances.

The album ends with “A Shorter Thing”. It was written for Wayne Shorter and uses the chord progressions from the Wayne Shorter tune “Fall”. The song starts with the rhythm section only and an elegant piano solo, followed by a saxophone interlude and a tenor sax solo. The song and the album finish with a soft fade-out, leaving a final impression in your ears. Very sophisticated.

Dear Solon: Chapeau. You have managed to impress me strongly with your first album as a leader. You found excellent fellow musicians to play your fine compositions very dynamically and very refined.

The album gets a clear recommendation from me. Unfortunately I will not be in  Montreal on July 21 for the release concert at the Upstairs Jazz Bistro & Bar. Let’s hope that this group gets the chance to perform in Europe.

Here is a great video from the album release show in Edmonton:

You can check out the complete album on Solon’s website:

And finally a playlist of the album on iTunes: