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Crotchet

Billy Cobham

Magic

Columbia 5128952 [51:16] ADD

 

 



On A Magic Carpet Ride [5:08]
AC/DC [5:27]
Leaward Winds [3:39]
Puffnstuff [6:23]
‘Antares’ – The Star [5:11]
Magic / Reflection In The Clouds / Magic Recapitulation [13:33]
Indigo [6:50]
Guernica [5:05]

Billy Cobham: drums and vocals
Joachim Kuhn: Electric piano, acoustic piano, mini moog
Mark Soskin: acoustic piano, oberheim synthesizer, acoustic tack piano, keyboards, electric piano
Pete Maunu: guitars
Randy Jackson: bass
Alvin Baptiste: clarinet, vocals
Pete Escovedo: vocals, timbales
Sheila Escovedo: congas
Kathleen Kaan: vocals
 

 

In the 1970s, Billy Cobham was one of the most dynamic names in jazz-rock fusion. He recorded with Miles Davis and John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra before striking out on his own. He became highly influential in jazz and rock drum sounds, with his high pitched, tuned drums and his interesting mixtures of traditional beats with experimental melodic drumming. This album is a re-release of the second of five albums that he cut for CBS records, released now by Sony with two additional tracks and a new attempt at mixing and mastering with all that digital equipment can bring to the original analog recordings.

This album was made with a fairly impressive cast of musicians including Randy Jackson on bass, Pete Escovedo on percussion, as well as Pete Maunu on guitar and Mark Soskin on keyboards. Additionally Alvin Baptiste adds clarinet on several tracks, which seems to alternate between truly innovative and simply out-of-place. Much of this album feels dated to the modern listener, especially when songs will be broken out of for extended grooves with the band doing a vocal shout chorus.

At times the listener is reminded of exactly why Cobham was so influential. The groovy "’Antares’ – the Star" sounds as if it could have come directly from the soundtrack to Shaft, if the clarinet solo would have been replaced with a saxophone, electric keyboard, or guitar. The extended song cycle "Magic / Reflection In The Clouds / Magic Recapitulation" gives him focus for some absolutely electric solos as well as some outstanding rhythm section grooves. The drumming throughout is consistently outstanding, both from Cobham and from his percussionists. Also one is reminded of the amazing versatility of Randy Jackson, now mostly known as the former bass player for Journey or perhaps as a judge alongside Simon Cowell in American Idol (the American version of Pop Idol). On this long forgotten album, he is as much a standout as Cobham, laying down grooves and displaying technical facility beyond his years.

Unfortunately however, there are some places where the album simply has not aged well. The Kathleen Kaan/Pete Escovedo vocal duet in the middle of "Magic / Reflection In The Clouds / Magic Recapitulation" is wandering and seems out of place in the context of the rest of the song. Although the piano work is truly outstanding, as is the guitar solo in the middle section, the vocals sound dated, and the voices ill-suited to each other.

The bonus material consists of two additional tracks: "Inigo" and "Guernica". The first, "Inigo," sounds like a foray through a plodding 1970s travel video, excepting the Pete Manu guitar solo, which is one of the albums highlights. In short, this is truly illustrative of why jazz-rock really was more successful as a venture in the realm of commercial music rather than as anything in the popular music scene. "Guernica" should have been on the initial album, as it contains some of the best piano work, drumming, and rhythm-section grooves presented.

There is a reason that this album was out of print for so long. In the interest of completeness and as a testament to the greatness of this rhythm section it needed to be pressed on CD at some point. And there are some truly outstanding highlights here if one wants to listen. Alas, there is a large portion of the album which also sounds dated and stale. Weather Report, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Miles Davis’s forays into jazz-rock are all better at accomplishing what Billy Cobham was attempting. On the other hand, there are some moments where he achieves the greatness that he is capable of. Although the album will never achieve a broad appeal, anyone who is already a fan of jazz-rock should enjoy much of the album, and can forgive the rest. After all, it was the ‘70s… he probably just didn’t know any better.

Patrick Gary

MusicWeb Encyclopaedia of Popular Music - Billy Cobham



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