Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Billy Cobham Colin Towns & HR Big Band - 2006 "Meeting Of The Spirits"

There's been a rush of Mahavishnu Orchestra related projects during the last two years. First there was Mahavishnu keyboardist Jan Hammer playing Mahavishnu music with guitarist Jeff Beck in Europe. Then there was the Jeff Richman-produced tribute album, Visions Of An Inner Mounting Apocalypse. There is the ongoing success of the Mahavishnu Project band and its VishnuFest. And just this month, Hammer shows up on the new album from drummer Billy Cobham.

There's plenty more too. The recent release of the wonderful A Meeting Of Spirits album from the brilliant keyboardist Gary Husband. A cover of the Mahavishnu classic, "Thousand Island Park," from keyboard wizard Mitchel Forman on his new Perspectives disc. And just a few weeks ago, the pairing of Cobham and Mahavishnu violinist Jerry Goodman, who had not played together in over thirty years, for a performance of Mahavishnu music with the hr-Bigband at the Berlin Jazz Festival. Up next will be a DVD of a performance from the second version of the Mahavishnu Orchestra at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1974.

We've been lucky so far. Those who have chosen to interpret this engaging, but very challenging, music have produced work worthy of Mahavishnu's legacy. This new disc from Germany's hr-Bigband (a performance broadcast live on German radio earlier this year) is no exception. The hr-Bigband's manager, Olaf Stotzler, had been looking for someone who would take the music and crash through barriers with it—and in English arranger/composer Colin Towns he found him.

Initial exposure to the Mahavishnu Orchestra could sometimes be overwhelming. The original band's complex time signatures, most evident in Cobham's masterful drumming, could be confusing to musicians and audiences alike. But if you stuck with them, you'd likely find yourself locked into the groove. Towns and the hr-Bigband have taken this dimension even further. There are main themes being performed while sub-themes and sub-sub-themes are being played simultaneously. At first it's almost too much—until you remember the spirit of the original band. To take this music out, you need to take it out. Only then do you find yourself immersed in the arrangements and lost in lofty thought.

Cobham revisits his past with fervor. His drumming remains a dominant, driving force. Time has passed and he takes more reflective solos, but his support playing is still powerful and compelling. The band itself is full of accomplished musicians who seem to understand the nuance—even if it is bombastic—of the music. Martin Scales' guitar captures the essence of the original sounds without attempting to mimic them. The horns and keyboards provide their version of swing for music in which sometimes the swing is implied. It's a full-bodied sound with all the power you'd expect from a big band. Yet the players are at home too in quiet sections of great beauty. To be able to carry off that latter aspect of the Mahavishnu music, as required by Towns' arrangements, is key to any successful interpretation of these tunes.

The way the album has been edited creates what could be considered one long composition, seamlessly formed of movements from the first and second Mahavishnus. This imbues a sense of building tension which is released on the final cut, “Meeting Of The Spirits,” and through the joyous yelps of an appreciative crowd, whose enthusiasm throughout is part of the listening experience.

Mahavishnu's guitarist, John McLaughlin, who wrote some of the liner notes, never expected to hear his compositions played by a big band. The music on this CD, he says, is a revelation to him. Meeting Of The Spirits successfully presents Mahavishnu music in a way you'll never have experienced it before.

It’s fair to say that there has been no shortage of bad press for jazz-rock fusion over the last two decades in a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. As a result, the achievements of the Mahavishnu Orchestra have been diminished with the passage of time to the point it now seems like a footnote in the pages of history. Yet the Mahavishnu Orchestra was the next major step in jazz rock after Bitches Brew. OK, it may have triggered the guitar Olympics, where every guitarist wanted to play faster than McLaughlin, but here was the visceral marriage of Hendrix’ guitar sound and blistering jazz improvisation taken to a level of excellence that is now a benchmark in the music.

Billy Cobham, Colin Towns and HR-Big Band - Meeting of the Spirits: A Celebration of the Mahavishnu
While the group is remembered for vistuosity taken to the nth degree, McLaughlin’s compositions for the band, with their intricate melodies and tricky time signatures, are largely forgotten. This project brings those compositions alive, and is a reminder that the Mahavishnu Orchestra were by no means one dimensional. Towns’ orchestrations are a stunning mix of imagination and craftsmanship (‘Birds of Fire,’ ‘Celestial Terrestrial Commuters,’ ‘Meeting of the Spirits’), but they also let the music breath with exciting and wholly apposite solos from the members of the HR-Big Band that show how this music works in an acoustic context.

Axel Schlosser on trumpet on ‘Birds of Fire’ or Johannes Enders on tenor on ‘Dawn’, for example, rise to the challenge of this demanding music with ease and elegance. Cobham’s captures much of the coiled spring intensity of his work on the originals, and has plenty of solo space, such as ‘Resolution’. A great album, which places jazz-rock in a different light – as Towns says, ‘Take a look at this, if you like it, check out the original records. It will enhance your life more than realise!’

Recorded live January 27th 2006, Centralstation, Darmstadt, Germany.

http://jazz-rock-fusion-guitar.blogspot.com/search?q=Billy+Cobham

Tracks Listing:

01. Hope (1:55)
02. Birds Of Fire (6:24)
03. Miles Beyond (4:40)
04. Resolution (4:19)
05. Cosmic Strut (3:42)
06. Dawn (9:08)
07. Eternity's Breath Parts 1&2 (6:41)
08. Sanctuary (9:54)
09. Celestial Terrestrial Commuters (3:18)
10. You Know, You Know (5:20)
11. One Word (11:47)
12. Meeting Of The Spirits (6:58)

Total time 74:06

Personnel:

Drums – Billy Cobham

Colin Towns & HR Big Band:

Alto Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Flute – Heinz-Dieter Sauerborn, Oliver Leicht
Baritone Saxophone, Bass Clarinet – Rainer Heute
Bass Trombone – Manfred Honetschläger
Electric Bass – Thomas Heidepriem
Guitar – Martin Scales
Piano, Electric Piano [Fender Rhodes], Keyboards – Peter Reiter
Tenor Saxophone, Clarinet, Flute – Harry Petersen
Tenor Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Flute – Johannes Enders
Trombone – Christian Jaksjø, Günter Bollmann, Peter Feil
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Axel Schlosser, Martin Auer, Thomas Vogel, Tobias Weidinger

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