On Saturday evening, May 18, the saxophonist Evan Cobb and his quintet are coming back to Barking Legs for an encore tribute concert. Last year, they celebrated the venerable drummer Art Blakey’s seminal big bands. This year, it’s Horace Silver’s funky, melodic piano-driven hard bop. Horace Silver is all about the groove. “Meaningful simplicity” he called it in the notes to an album called Serenade to a Soul Sister. Anyone who has ever heard Silver’s “Song For My Father” knows exactly what he means.
Silver was born in Norwalk, Connecticut, but his father was from the Cape Verdean Islands, a Portuguese protectorate until the mid-1970s. While many of his best-known tunes —“The Preacher,” “Sister Sadie,” and “Filthy McNasty’—draw on blues and gospel, it’s the languid romanticism of “Song For My Father” that many people associate with Silver.
It opens with a simple, two-step bassline and a simple tick-tock tapping drum line, while the pianist sketches the melody with single notes dropped between the beats. Behind them the horns sound the sighing melodic line repeated throughout the song as it slowly builds, the pianist punching single notes emphasizing the song’s gently rocking walk. After awhile, he begins adding sidling, insinuating gospel accents and the walk turns into a funky little dance. Those opening piano bass notes showed up again later in Steely Dan’s “Rikki Don’t Lose that Number.”
Evan Cobb began playing the piano when he was very young, later moving on to oboe at his father’s behest. By the time he was in high school, he’d picked up the saxophone and had begun listening to jazz. At Northwestern University, he majored in oboe performance, while also studying jazz. After graduation, he stayed in Chicago playing in a band he formed called Buddha’s Belly. They stayed together for six years, touring the country with, among others, Umphrey’s McGee and Rachael Yamagata. They made it to the finals as Best New Entertainer in the 2005 Chicago Music Awards. The band broke up in 2006.
Two years later, Cobb moved to Nashville. As well as playing with his current quintet, he’s played with the Nashville Symphony, the Nashville Jazz Orchestra, J.D.Souther and Aretha Franklin. He leads a jam session at the Nashville Jazz Workshop every month, as well as introducing young players to the art in his annual Nashville Jazz Workshop Summer Jazz Camp.
Cobb has the chops for the Silver tribute, but what about the piano player? In the end, he’s the one who’s going to be doing much of the heavy lifting, and Bruce Dudley, the pianist in his quintet, has the goods. One listen to his take on John Lewis’s “Two Bass Hit” (on his website) will dispel any doubts concerning his rhythmic punch, while his own “Tango D’Orfeo” has traces of Silver’s sensuality. Dudley has become “the pianist other pianists go to hear,” wrote the Houston Post. While a writer for the Tennessee Jazz and Blues News enthused, “both (Dudley’s) hands always seem to be in perfect balance, which gives every note a harmonic richness.”
The trumpet player in the band is Matt White. In fact, this is the exact same band that played the Art Blakey tribute last year. Following that show, White in particular was singled out in several blogs. Listening to “The Yankee Poured Out The Bacon Grease,” a track from his debut album featuring many of the musicians in Saturday’s quintet, it becomes clear why he caught so many ears. It opens with a quiet, lyrical duet between bassist Jonathan Wires and pianist, Joe Davidian. After about a minute the time doubles when drummer Jim White enters with the horns playing short, punchy phrases. The tempo slows again and Matt White begins blowing quietly over a rippling piano figure before picking up the tempo with long flowing phrases rising and falling over the pumping rhythm. In full flight he soars over the band urging them on to one climax after another. This would sound great mixed with the Horace Silver classics they’ll be playing next Saturday night.
Storming, strutting Silver-written hard-bop rockers like “Nutville (Cape Verdean Blues)” and “Strollin” as well as “Filthy McNasty” and “Sister Sadie” were written for a band like Cobb’s. White’s trumpet trading lines with Cobb’s saxophone over Dudley’s alternately lyrical and stabbing pianistics anchored by bassist Wires and drummer White; this is a band equally comfortable in hard bop full-flight, or relaxing into the rhythmic and melodic flow of one of his slinky bossa nova tunes.
Evan Cobb Quintet Plays the Music of Horace Silver • 8 p.m. • Saturday, May 18 • Barking Legs Theater • 1307 Dodds Ave • (423) 624-5347 • barkinglegs.org