Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music
There’s no question that Billy Cobham is one of the most talented and influencial drummers on the planet. I had high hopes going into this one that it would be another “Birds Of Fire” shred-fest. Not quite, although the first song delivers big time in that style. Jan Hammer, his old MAHIVISHNU ORCHESTRA band mate helps out, while Tommy Bolin doesn’t disappoint on guitars. We also get some bass, sax, flugelhorn, trumpet and flute to round out this mostly jazzy sounding album.
Drummer Billy Cobham was fresh from his success with the Mahavishnu Orchestra when he recorded his debut album, which is still his best. Most of the selections showcase Cobham in a quartet with keyboardist Jan Hammer, guitarist Tommy Bolin, and electric bassist Lee Sklar. Two other numbers include Joe Farrell on flute and soprano and trumpeter Jimmy Owens with guitarist John Tropea, Hammer, bassist Ron Carter, and Ray Barretto on congas. The generally high-quality compositions (which include "Red Baron") make this fusion set a standout, a strong mixture of rock-ish rhythms and jazz improvising.
Billy Cobham, the pioneering jazz-rock fusion drummer who left all his rivals and imitators in the dust when he surfaced in the 1970s, always sounded like a complete musician rather than simply a technical miracle. Approaching 70, he still does. Cobham and a hard-rocking quartet are at Ronnie Scott's, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the drummer's bandleading debut album, Spectrum, by playing most of the music from it, and a little new material besides.
What made this flat-out show so much more than a routine tribute-band trot through a famous tracklist was the enthusiastic drive of the band.
Generally acclaimed as fusion's greatest drummer, Billy Cobham's explosive technique powered some of the genre's most important early recordings including groundbreaking efforts by Miles Davis and the Mahavishnu Orchestra before he became an accomplished bandleader in his own right.
A lesser known Cobham recording that has only been available in the U.S. as an import. Cobham also seems to push guitarists to new heights (i.e. Tommy Bolin, John Abercrombie, John Scofield) and does so here with Barry Finnerty. Their interaction on the tune "Flight Time" is reminiscent of Cobham/Bolin on Spectrum. Yet, despite the intensity and chops of Finnerty and Cobham, this session is remarkably restrained thanks in large part to the thoughtful playing of keyboarist Don Grolnick. There is a definite sense of a band here, rather than just a collection of all-stars playing Billy Cobham songs; in fact, the only Cobham retread is "Antares" (from Magic). Whether it is Don Grolnick's piano solo on "6 Persimmons" or his opening duet with Barry Finnerty on "Princess," Cobham should get just as much credit for what he did not play.
Following two studio recordings, this impressive band hit the road and cut this session with keyboardist George Duke. Their encounter provided for an uneven, but infectious, recording. "Hip Pockets," composed by Cobham, and "Ivory Tattoo," composed by Scofield, begin the session with some intense playing. Things get a bit goofy with "Space Lady" (a song which probably worked better live), and a bit melodramatic with "Almustafa the Beloved."