Billy Cobham


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There are some musicians who can look forward while looking back, though they are few and far between. Master drummer, composer, and arranger Billy Cobham is one of them. Palindrome continues to reflect the endless, restless search for new modes of expression and technical facility that have been a hallmark of his career. That said, like its predecessor, 2008's Fruit of the Loom, which featured a radical reworking of the title cuts from Spectrum and Crosswind, this set revisits four earlier compositions and contains six new ones. Cobham sees these two albums as part of a multi-volume continuum that combines his reflections on previous musical experiences as they intersect with his current modes of thinking -- that thinking here is jazz-rock. This set is structured with older works radically revisioned with more contemporary -- though no less adventurous -- arrangements, followed by five new tunes, followed by two more older pieces, and ending with a final current track. The reworking of "Moon Germs" from 1975's Total Eclipse is a revelation of things to come with knotty horn lines -- by a section that includes Ernie Watts meeting Jean-Marie Ecay's taut guitar lines, layered organ and synth tracks underscored by mallet instruments and Latin percussion and pulled together by a monstrously funky bassline from Fifi Chayeb, and Cobham's breaks and rim shots; the track is familiar but feels brand new. Likewise with the gorgeous world music-feel of "Two for Juan," originally on Picture This. The doubled basslines, Latin percussion, layered synths, violin solo, and Cobham's monstrous attack lead the changes through twists and turns reminiscent of Frank Zappa's compositions. The new pieces "Obliquely Speaking" (a purposeful update and continuation of the themes in "Two for Juan") and "Cancun Market" use a steel pan, bringing more Latin and Caribbean touches to the popping, exotic meld of jazz changes and rock dynamics. "Torpedo Flo" has a gorgeously complex yet breezy melody that runs through the various harmonic and rhythmic complexities and contains soul aplenty. Other early tunes such as "Mirage" (from Focused) and "Alpha Waves" (from The Traveler) are such canny updates that while their origins lie in the earlier fusion era, their facility is pure 21st century. Palindrome not only succeeds, but goes further than Fruit of the Loom in realizing a new music built on older compositional structures and production techniques; it creates a startlingly fresh jazz-rock fusion.

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