Billy Cobham

Rudiments: The Billy Cobham Anthology

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If ever anybody deserved a two-disc anthology of his offerings as a solo artist it's fusion drummer Billy Cobham. After making his stellar debut with John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra, Cobham made eight records for Atlantic from 1973-1978. To varying degrees, these recordings were true statements on the state of jazz-rock fusion. Many blame Cobham for being a member of the technical-expertise-is-everything school, and to a degree it may be true. But the tracks collected here by Barry Benson and Nick Sahakian provide evidence of something else entirely: that along with technical expertise in spades, Cobham had soul, groove, and a handle on how powerful rock & roll could contribute to jazz improvisation if harnessed in the right way. And every single track on these two discs does exactly that and more. For starters there's the majority of Cobham's classic debut, Spectrum, that featured contributions from guitarists Tommy Bolin (speaking of rock & roll), John Scofield (as he has never been heard since), and John Tropea as well as Jan Hammer from the Mahavishnu band. Spectrum's two finest tracks, "Quadrant 4" and "Stratus," are screaming jazz-rock with just the right hints of funk and groove that would become the hallmarks of Cobham's records after that. Also on "Stratus" it's interesting to note that Cobham and Frank Zappa were going for the same keyboard sounds simultaneously, and not just sonics, but phrasing. The sounds were perhaps derived from the two using the same session players including George Duke, the Brecker Brothers, and Alfonso Johnson among others. All of disc one is pure gold; there's not a weak second on it. And for that matter, disc two is solid as well; it's just that by the time these sets were recorded, Cobham's musical focus had shifted from jazz-rock to jazz-funk. The same tom-tom rolls are there, the constant rim shifts, and shaking, thunderous bass drum blasts and pops. Because of the exhilaration on disc one what comes across clearer on the second set is just how intricate and compelling Cobham is as a composer. These are scripted roles, with plenty of room for improvisation in the middle and often at the beginning and end; they are wonders of musical sophistication and raw gritty funky soul. In addition to almost three hours of crushingly innovative music, the liner notes are chock full of an extensive bio, critical, and session notes, a few outtakes and unreleased cuts and a cool clear plastic slipcase. This set is a document from a classic time in the evolution of both rock and jazz, and should be regarded as an essential purchase by fans not only of Cobham's but Bolin's, Scofield's, Miles Davis' electric era, the Breckers', and of course Mahavishnu's. Zappa fans from the era would also appreciate much of the material here.

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