Jimmy Cobb was the drummer on “Kind of Blue,” Miles Davis’s 1959 masterpiece; a half-century later, the implacable swing he brought to that landmark album is undiminished. As if to prove that age is just a number, Cobb, a native Washingtonian who turned 83 last week, celebrated the occasion at his youthful hangout, Bohemian Caverns, with an evening of straight-ahead jazz standards, played with an intensity that would challenge men half his age.
Indeed, two of the men in Cobb’s quartet (billed as “Jimmy Cobb & Friends”) are about half his age. Tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson and bassist John Webber, both in their 40s, have skill and energy to spare. Cobb effortlessly kept up with them — and veteran pianist George Cables — on burning renditions of “My Shining Hour” and “If I Were a Bell.”
If anything, they kept up with Cobb, who challenged his own long-held reputation for a relaxed style. Instead, he was alert and relentless, hammering the cymbals, following them closely on the snare, while his face betrayed a deadly focus and determination. Cobb’s virtuosic solos on the aforementioned pieces were tours de force, as fresh and resourceful as a newcomer out to prove himself.
Though Cobb’s position at the helm of the band was never in doubt, Jackson was the ensemble’s lead melodic voice. He approached the repertoire with lean lyricism and explored the hidden possibilities of standby bebop riffs. But his gruff, harmonically tense edge was quick to surface, first flexing its muscles on “Someday My Prince Will Come” and rising to a fever pitch a la John Coltrane on “Kind of Blue” ’s signature tune, “So What.”
Webber was also in fine form, his bass walks so assured they might be better described as sashays and his solos poetry in melodic and rhythmic motion. It was Cables, however, whose sparkling piano work most closely competed with Cobb’s. Flawless yet never lacking in warmth, his extended intro on the ballad “You Don’t Know What Love Is” inspired Cobb to stage-whisper to Jackson, “That boy’s a genius!”