Thursday, June 14, 2018

Billy Cobham - 2001 "Rudiments" - The Billy Cobham Anthology

"Rudiments" connotes that this is essential for drummers-and the 24 tracks of straight-ahead, funked-up and rock-infused jazz make it a real treat for the rest of us, too! The tracks are from eight 1973-78 Atlantic LPs and the supporting players include Jan Hammer, John Scofield, Randy and Michael Brecker and more; includes Stratus; Spanish Moss; Flash Flood; Moon Germs; 29; Shabazz , and more. Nearly two and a half hours of awe-inspiring performances!

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.

Cobham was one of the building blocks of jazz-rock fusion. By the time he started his recording career in 1976, he had been part of three of the most important bands of the '70s, Miles Davis's groups, Dreams, and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. A favorite of guitar players and fans because of the way he drives the string players, his debut album, Spectrum, is pure jazz-rock (featuring the late rock guitarist, Tommy Bolin, from the James Gang and Deep Purple). Bolin's tracks are at the beginning of this 24-track, two-CD retrospective and a very young John Scofield, is featured on guitar at the end of the CD. Back in the days before he joined Miles Davis, Scofield was part of Cobham's band that he co-led with George Duke, and of course, that band's funk classic, "Do What You Wanna" is included. In between those bookends are stunning examples of what it means to be a powerful drummer and to drive a band. There are liberal samplings of Cobham's solos, as well as tracks with his group that featured his partners from Dreams, the Brecker Brothers. Fusion lovers can't go wrong here, while smooth-jazz folks could gain a better appreciation of the roots of that genre.

The Good Book of fusion drumming, culled from a half-dozen years in the life of Billy Cobham. After serving in drum corps, the High School of Music and Arts, and the Army band, as well as gigging and recording with Kenny Burrell, George Benson and Junior Mance, Panamanian native Cobham was finally recommended by Jack DeJohnette to Miles Davis in 1969. Things took off like a bullet from there, and soon enough Cobham was firmly established as the Hot New Thing in jazz-rock drumming. He was also noted as a talented composer at the time.
Rudiments picks up following his tenures with Miles, Dreams and Mahavishnu Orchestra. Cobham debuted on Atlantic in 1973 with Spectrum and a band that included Mahavishnu keyboardist Jan Hammer, session bassist Lee Sklar, and young guitar wizard Tommy Bolin (who replaced Joe Walsh in the James Gang and Ritchie Blackmore in Deep Purple). The first five tracks on Disc 1 are drawn from those sessions, and they illustrate just what all the fuss over Cobham was about. His use of dual or triple bass drums presaged Alex Van Halen by years; in fact, Cobham is an acknowledged influence on most 70s and 80s hard-rock drummers. The hell-on-wheels “Quadrant 4” sets the pace for much of this anthology. Bolin is more honestly blues-oriented than John McLaughlin was, and this track sets the blues caravan rolling downhill without brakes. The long, tense synth and drums intro of “Stratus” collapses into a soulful, Zappa-ish guitar theme. The next three tunes are of similar temperament.

The remaining seven tracks of Disc 1 feature larger ensembles that include the Brecker Brothers and guitarist John Abercrombie. Randy and Mike Brecker poured more fuel on the Cobham fire, abetted by trombonist Glenn Ferris and keyboardists Milcho Leviev and George Duke alternately. “Spanish Moss” and “Flash Flood” are two sections of a tone poem powered by Latin percussion and urgent electric piano. The “Solarization” suite, “Lunarputians”, “Moon Germs” and “Solar Eclipse” (note Cobham’s preoccupation with things cosmic and atmospheric) continue the grand evolution of his pumped-up soul-funk-rock-jazz hybrid. The last track is perhaps the most dated of the bunch, rather like a Rocky soundtrack edit.

Disc 2 continues the odyssey with similar personnel and vibe. “Shabazz”, inspired not by Malcolm X but a chain of bakeries, begins with another thunderous drum solo and ends up in the same kind of groove as much of the prior disc. Things took a heavier turn with A Funky Thide of Sings, his crossover hit of ’75 that ushered in John Scofield. The Breckers’ “Some Skunk Funk” upped the ante of power fusion with its outstanding horn arrangement. “A Funky Thide...” has its roots in martial music as much as the funk. The following year, the horns were gone and Cobham was back to a quartet format. Scofield, bassist Doug Rauch and keyboardist George Duke (under the pseudonym “Dawilli Gonga”) recorded Life & Times, from which tracks 6-8 are drawn. As hot as the horn section was, the personnel reduction brings welcome breathing room for everyone to stretch out. Organist Allan Zavod makes an evocative guest spot on the title track, and Scofield’s own personality begins to emerge more fully.

Next are three tracks by the Cobham/Duke Band, including Scofield again and bassist Alphonso Johnson. Duke’s personal aesthetic, filtered through his experience with Zappa, dominates these tracks but Cobham is not to be denied, particularly his double-bass adventure on “Juicy”. The final track, “Arroyo”, marked the end of Cobham’s Atlantic contract in 1978. It’s back to the quartet again, with John Williams in place of Doug Rauch, and the melancholy vibe of the track indicates the closing of doors and moving on.

Tracks Listing:

Disc 1:
01. Quadrant 4 (4:32)
02. Stratus (9:52)
03. Anxiety/Taurian Matador (4:49)
04. Snoopy's Search/Red Baron (7:44)
05. All 4 One [Outtake]* (4:16)
06. The Pleasant Pheasant (5:23)
07. Spanish Moss (4:10)
08. Flash Flood (5:12)
09. Solarization: (11:11)
  a) Solarization
  b) Second Phase
  c) Crescent Sun
  d) Voyage
  e) Solarization Recapitulation
10. Lunarputians (2:33)
11. Moon Germs (4:57)
12. Total Eclipse (5:58)

Total Time 1:10:30 (70.5 mins)

Disc 2:
01. Shabazz (13:49)
02. Some Skunk Funk (5:11)
03. A Funky Thide Of Sings (3:41)
04. Panhandler (4:07)
05. Neu Rock N' Roll [Outtake]* (6:28)
06. Life & Times (7:01)
07. 29 (2:35)
08. Earthlings (5:07)
09. Hip Pockets - The Billy Cobham/George Duke Band (7:10)
10. Juicy - The Billy Cobham/George Duke Band (6:53)
11. Do What Cha Wanna - The Billy Cobham/George Duke Band (5:00)
12. Arroyo (4:13)

Total Time 1:11:11 (71 mins)

*Indicates previously unreleased tracks


- Billy Cobham / percussion
- Jan Hammer / keyboards (Disc 1 Tracks 1-5)
- Tommy Bolin / guitar (Disc 1 Tracks 1-5)
- Lee Sklar / bass (Disc 1 Tracks 1-5)
- George Duke / keyboards (Disc 1 Tracks 6-8, Disc 2 Tracks 9-11)
- John Abercrombie / guitar (Disc 1 Tracks 6-12)
- John Williams / bass (Disc 1 Tracks 6-8, Disc 2 Track 12)
- Lee Pastora / latin percussion (Disc 1 Tracks 6-8)
- Milcho Leviev / keyboards (Disc 1 Tracks 9-12 & Disc 2 Tracks 1-5)
- Alex Blake / bass (Disc 1 Tracks 9-12, Disc 2 Tracks 1-5)
- Randy Brecker / trumpet (Disc 1 Tracks 6-12, Disc 2 Tracks 1-5)
- Garnett Brown / trombone (Disc 1 Tracks 6-8)
- Michael Brecker / woodwinds & saxes (Disc 1 Tracks 6-12, Disc 2 Tracks 1-5)
- Glenn Ferris / trombones (Disc 1 Tracks 9-12, Disc 2 Tracks 1-5)
- John Scofield / guitar (Disc 2 Tracks 2-12)
- Dawilli Gonga / keyboards (Disc 2 Tracks 6-8 & 12)
- Alfonso Johnson / bass (Disc 2 Tracks 9-11)

...and countless additional musicians (who contributed to a lesser degree and are unfortunately too many to list)