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Chris Santo Cobbson

My Favorite Things

by Ian Mann

December 19, 2022


Cobbson’s writing reveals him to be a composer with a strong sense of melody and his tunes also embrace an impressive variety of musical styles.

Chris Santo Cobbson

“My Favorite Things”

(Santo Music CSC009)

Chris Santo Cobbson – guitars, bass guitar, keyboards with;
Gareth Lockrane – flutes, David Newton – piano, Karl Vanden Bossche – percussion, drums, Mark Whitlam – drums, Ben Baddoo – balofon, Ian Bateman – trombone, Alan Bateman – trumpet, tenor & alto sax, John-Paul Gard – piano, organ, Suntou Susso – kora, Courtney Pine – soprano sax

Guitarist and composer Chris Cobbson is of Ghanaian heritage, grew up in London and is now based in the West of England.

I know his playing best from his work with Cheltenham based saxophonist / vocalist Kim Cypher and he was part of the quartet that Cypher recently brought to a hugely successful village hall gig at Pudlestone in Herefordshire. I reviewed that show and it was at this event that Chris was kind enough to provide me with a review copy of his recently released solo album “My Favorite Things”. My review of the Pudlestone show can be found here;

Cobbson also appears on Cypher’s acclaimed 2019 album “Love Kim x”.

In addition to his work with Cypher and the leadership of his own groups, including his African Jazz Quartet, Cobbson is also a member of the Bristol based band Baraka, a group that performs in a variety of musical styles stemming from the African diaspora. The band is fronted by Ghanaian percussionist and vocalist Ben Baddoo, who guests on “My Favorite Things”. The Caribbean is represented by bassist/vocalist Royston Gage from Dominica who is joined in the rhythm section by Trinidadian drummer Tony Bailey. 

Baraka describe their music as “a high energy mix of Hi-Life, Township, Soca, Calypso and Reggae” and I’ve been lucky enough to witness a couple of their colourful performances at Festivals in Brecon (2022) and Abergavenny (2016). The Abergavenny show also featured the  Irishman Brendan Whitmore,  who added a jazz and blues element via a range of saxophones plus flute and harmonica. At Brecon this role was filled by trumpeter Ryan Porteous.

Cobbson’s career has included a couple of high profile engagements, including a stint with UK African music pioneers Osibisa and also as a member of the band of saxophonist / bass clarinettist Courtney Pine. Cobbson was part of the group that Pine brought to the 2013 Brecon Jazz Festival and was one of the better performers at what ultimately proved to be disappointing gig. A review of this show forms part of my Festival coverage here;

Cobbson has also performed in the band of restaurant critic turned jazz pianist Jay Rayner.

I could find very little information about Cobbson on line so the biographical details above are sourced almost entirely from my own encounters with his playing. I’ve certainly enjoyed his work with Cypher’s groups, including his part of an online quintet performance that formed part of the 2020 Virtual Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, filmed and streamed by the Black Mountain Jazz Club in Abergavenny. Review here;

Turning now to this new album from Cobbson which was recorded with an impressive cast of his musical friends, with many of the musicians based in the West Country. His old boss Courtney Pine guests on one track and the programme embraces a variety of musical styles, reflecting the versatile Cobbson’s musical heritage.

Cobbson’s own album liner notes set the scene;
“As a Ghanaian who grew up in London I have been fortunate to absorb an eclectic mix of music from my African heritage and my explorations in jazz, soul, Caribbean music and other genres. This experience has shaped my musical voice and personality”.

Given its title (note the American spelling) it perhaps comes as no surprise to find that Cobbson dedicates the album to the memory of “John William Coltrane, whose spiritual musical genius is a constant source of inspiration”.

The album commences with the upbeat, summery sounds of “Enchantment”, played by a quintet featuring Cobbson, Lockrane, Newton, Whitlam and the prolific session percussionist Vanden Bossche, another UK based musician of Ghanaian heritage. Cobbson overdubs himself on guitar, electric bass and electric keyboards. He solos on guitar alongside Lockrane on flute. An uplifting start.

There’s a more obviously African feel to “Sempe”, which again features Lockrane, Whitlam and Vanden Bossche, plus Cobbson’s Baraka bandmate Ben Baddoo on balofon. This is a highly rhythmic piece with the various items of percussion featuring strongly. Cobbson solos fluently on acoustic guitar, augmented by Lockrane on flute, who adopts a breathier sound here.

The breezy “Look At Me Now” introduces a Latin element with Vanden Bossche again a busy presence, playing percussion both tuned and untuned. The line up here also features Newton on piano, who takes the first solo, plus the horns of the Bateman brothers, Ian (trombone) and Alan (trumpet, saxes).

Staying in the Caribbean “Lovers Rock” acknowledges the influence of reggae as Cobbson continues to overdub himself on guitar, bass and keys. The line up here also includes Lockrane, Whitlam and Vanden Bossche with John-Paul Gard taking over on piano. Cobbson provides an authentic reggae style syncopated guitar groove, his choppy rhythms comping behind Gard’s solo and later underscoring his own guitar solo.

Cobbson pays further homage to Coltrane with an arrangement of “My Favorite Things”, the Rodgers & Hammerstein song transformed by Coltrane into a spiritual jazz classic. Wisely Cobbson chooses not to emulate JC but instead puts his own twist on the tune in an arrangement that features the kora playing of Suntou Susso alongside the leader’s acoustic guitar, Lockrane’s flute and Vanden Bossche’s percussion.

The music of South Africa informs “A Time To Forget, A Time To Forget”, a composition that Cobbson dedicates to the memory of Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1931 – 2021).  It’s very much a celebration of Tutu’s life with the infectious ‘clap along’ rhythms of Whitlam and Vanden Bossche topped off by the gospel style swirl of Gard’s Hammond and the lissom African style guitar melody lines of the leader. A different version of this tune appears on Kim Cypher’s “Love Kim x” album and features her soprano saxophone playing. It’s also a piece that features in the Cypher Band’s live sets, proving to be one of the highlights of that Pudlestone performance.

I’m not sure if the title of “The Breeze And You” is a nod to George Benson, although it sounds as if it could be as Cobbson’s syrupy electric guitar doubles up with Lockrane’s slinky flute while Newton solos at the piano with a floating lyricism. Cobbson’s overdubbed electric bass teams up with Whitlam and Vanden Bossche to create a relaxed groove. Lockrane also features as a soloist, making his final contribution to the album. Benson is certainly one of Cobbson’s acknowledged jazz guitar influences, alongside Wes Montgomery, Grant Green and Kenny Burrell.

The celebratory “Bele” ups the energy levels again with the Bateman brothers combining with Pine in a horn enlivened arrangement that features a dancing soprano sax solo from the latter. Cobbson’s own guitar playing is similarly lithe as Vanden Bossche doubles on drum kit and percussion to create an infectious rhythmic groove. Newton makes a rare appearance on electric keys.

The album concludes with “Malaika” (meaning “Angel”), a song most closely associated with the Kenyan singer and composer Fadhili William. Cobbson’s silky arrangement features his cleanly picked guitar alongside Newton’s piano and the subtle groove of Whitlam and Vanden Bossche.

On an album largely comprised of original material Cobbson’s writing reveals him to be a composer with a strong sense of melody and his tunes also embrace an impressive variety of musical styles. His guitar playing is crisp and well articulated throughout and he is well served by the pool of musicians that he has chosen for the project, with Vanden Bossche, who appears on every track, playing a particularly significant role.

However I have to say that after watching Cobbson play live on numerous occasions I was expecting something a little bit more fiery. Despite the skill of the playing the album is a little bit TOO laid back at times and risks straying into the realms of ‘smooth jazz’. It’s all a little bit TOO tasteful, and some listeners may find it all a little bloodless, a quality that the production and some of the arrangements only encourages.

That said there is much to enjoy here and I suspect that many of these tunes would really take off and come into their own in the crucible of the live environment – the audience reaction to “A Time To Reflect, A Time To Forget” at Pudlestone is testament to that. If Cobbson ever takes the music out on the road I’d be very interested in seeing it performed in this context.

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