Billy Cobham: Stratus




Billy Cobham (drums, percussion)


Spectrum (Atlantic 7268-2)

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Billy Cobham (drums, percussion), Jan Hammer (electric piano, acoustic piano, Moog synthesizer),

Tommy Bolin (guitar), Lee Sklar (Fender bass)


Composed by Billy Cobham


Recorded: New York, mid-May, 1973


Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

Back in 1973, while still in the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Billy Cobham made a really wise business decision. He had some compositions he wanted played. Feeling they would be better appreciated outside of Mahavishnu, Billy gathered Jan Hammer and some other fine players and recorded one of fusion music's classic albums, Spectrum. Cobham's decision led to a very lucrative decade for him as the success of his first release laid the groundwork for several other well-received albums and tours.

The tune actually begins quite eerily with otherworldly synthesized sound effects. Cobham augments the electronics with a regimental drum solo. A short roll ends with a powerful accent that launches a deep- pocket groove powered by Lee Sklar's insistent bass. The piece has several impressive themes. But Sklar's repeated bass riff actually becomes the dominant force and the de facto melody. Hammer and Bolin take energetic turns trading-off over the bubbling cauldron of fusion funk. Of particular note, however, are the comping skills of both players. Cobham stays in a very deep pocket throughout. An uplifting unison riff, supported by a complex drum barrage, ends the tune.

"Stratus" became popular on radio, and pieces of it even found their way into television shows and commercials. To many Cobham fans, this performance is considered the apex of his solo career because it best combined his amazing drumming and compositional abilities. "Stratus" rightfully holds a place in the jazz-fusion pantheon.

Reviewer: Walter Kolosky

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  • 1 Ted McCallion // Feb 12, 2008 at 03:45 PM
    This was his first solo effort and coincidently, he has just released another album this month entitled Fruit From the Loom. His drumming abilities have been lauded by many for over 40 years now, but what many people forget is that he writes much of his own material, which is something very few drummers are able to do. He still tours the world and teaches at clinics, schools, and at WOMAD seminars as well. I hope some day the Grammys will honor him with a lifetime achievement award !
  • 2 Mike // Feb 12, 2008 at 05:16 PM
    I recently pulled from my collection and gave another listen to the Dreams album with Jeff Kent and The Brecker Brothers taking advantage of Billy Cobham's excellent drumming. I think it was new in 1969. Even now, that is still a terrific album thanks in great part to Billy Cobham.
  • 3 Ed // Apr 11, 2009 at 10:49 AM
    "Stratus" has been my fave jazz-funk track for as long as I can remember. Pure groove, pared back to the bare essentials, building to white heat on the guitar solo and then suddenly dropping back (how I love that double cymbal thrash)to leave space for the keyboard to wail. The whole thing topped off with a gritty, down-home unison riff over a seething drum solo, and fade to out. Unbeatable!