Saturday, June 30, 2018

Paradox - 1996 "Paradox"

Drummer Billy Cobham, guitarist Bill Bickford, and bassist Wolfgang Schmid form a creative fusion trio on Paradox. The result is a powerhouse addition to Cobham's discography. The music ranges from the roiling heavy metal sludge of Bickford's "Four More Years," to the full-on funk of Schmid's "Fonkey Donkey," to Cobham's calmly lyrical "Walking in Five." Schmid is the principal writer, followed by Bickford, then Cobham. The best way to set the scene is with Paradox's version of "Quadrant 4." The original was the defining track on Cobham's 1973 debut release, Spectrum. Coming on the heels of Cobham's work with John McLaughlin's original Mahavishnu Orchestra, Spectrum is one of the essential documents of fusion's classic era. The original "Quadrant 4" was a showcase for the late Tommy Bolin -- a bona fide rock star of James Gang fame. The melding of Bolin's speed-freak boogie with Cobham's pummeling whirlwind got the attention of jazz and rock fans alike, achieving almost "hit single" status in both camps. For their version almost a quarter-century later, Cobham and company notch the pace back a bit, getting more heft and torque without losing any of the original's guitar god flash (Schmid almost steals the show with his own axe-slinging).

While Paradox is a tripartite accomplishment, it is also a personal return to form for Cobham, who, after the promise of his early solo career, became involved in many forgettable projects (does anybody remember Bobby & the Midnites?). Paradox doesn't match the howling, apocalyptic thunder of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, but it is the equal of Cobham's own triumphant first release.

Paradox was one fine power fusion trio. Bassist Schmid is a known quantity in Germany. His first marks were made in Klaus Doldinger's group Passport. He has won many German music awards. New York guitarist Bill Bickford spent a decade in the band DeFunkt. Billy Cobham is Billy Cobham. The rhythm section of Cobham and Schmid start "Shoes in Seven" with a rocking beat similar in sound and purpose to Cobham's previous turn in the historic "Right Off" from Miles Davis's Tribute to Jack Johnson. Bickford goes with the flow by throwing in some very effective funky minor 9th chords. As Bickford solos it appears he is indeed paying tribute to "Right Off" as he mimics John McLaughlin's guitar sound. His chord knowledge seems to be very advanced. Cobham has engaged in many guitar/drum "duels" over the years. There is one of those on this cut as well. However, Bickford arms himself with only chords. It would seem he would be outmanned as Cobham usually goes into battle against single-note gunslingers who can shoot faster than the speed of sound. Instead Bickford matches every drum beat with every chord change. (Or is it the other way around?) It is quite an impressive feat either way. It is musical, too. Who knew that Billy Cobham was rocking things out again in a fantastic jazz-rock trio in the middle of the somewhat fusion-stale 1990s?

Before fusion engaged in a seemingly unbreakable love affair with elevators, it amplified stadiums globally with joyous eruptions of lacerating electric guitars and orchestral keyboards intertwined with blaring horn sections. Underneath those plugged-in sound collages were molten hotbeds of relentless rock and hand percussion that propelled all the pyro-madness with funk-informed grooves. Recalling the glory slickophonic years of fusion-rock, Paradox thumps mightily with the same frenetic electricity, extroverted pyrotechnics and herculean strength that elevated the careers of Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, and Weather Report to rock star status. Comprised of fusion veterans, drummer Billy Cobham, bassist Wolfgang Schmid, and guitarist Bill Bickford, this all-star trio stomps like a thumperasaurus monster abruptly awakening from a deep sleep. The combined steroid power of Cobham's muscular backbeats and nasty drum fills, Schmid's thick elastic basslines, and Bickford's electromagnolia guitar musings are a force to be reckoned. From the opening "Fonkey Donkey" which strangely gallops with a subversive nod to Ornette Coleman's rowdier electric years, to Cobham's '70s classic, "Quadrant 4," which features the drumming juggernaut hammering some of his best soloing in recent years, this trio goes for broke with nearly every note. Although subtlety isn't a main ingredient in their repertoire, the relative soft "Walking In Five" and "Late Nite" offer brief moments of quieter pleasures. Light years from being a classic in any sort, Paradox does however provide ample evidence that the '70s jazz era was not a complete waste.

Track listing:

1 Fonkey Donkey (Wolfgang Schmid-Grandy) 5:14
2 Four More Years (Bill Bickford) 8:52
3 Quadrant 4 (Billy Cobham) 5:28
4 Myohmyohyeoye (Wolfgang Schmid-Grandy) 9:25
5 Walking In Five (Billy Cobham) 6:35
6 Jam O'James (Bill Bickford) 5:21
7 Late Nite (Bill Bickford) 9:03
8 Shoes In Seven (Wolfgang Schmid-Grandy) 4:58
9 Five In (Wolfgang Schmid-Grandy) 6:17

Personnel:

- Billy Cobham / drums
- Wolfgang Schmid / bass
- Bill Bickford / guitars

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