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.
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.
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."
A two-LP set of drummer Billy Cobham's harder to find recordings from the later '70s. Of the two, Magic is far superior and is generally regarded as one of his most interesting recordings in his extensive discography. The addition of Simplicity of Expression: Depth of Thought amounts to nothing more than a throw in. Cobham recorded some embarrassing disco during the late '70s and this is a prime example. This two-fer is too good to pass up, though, and makes the LP highly recommended for fusion collectors.
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.
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. At his best, Cobham harnessed his amazing dexterity into thundering, high-octane hybrids of jazz complexity and rock & roll aggression. He was capable of subtler, funkier grooves on the one hand, and awe-inspiring solo improvisations on the other; in fact, his technical virtuosity was such that his flash could sometimes overwhelm his music.