Billy Cobham: Cosmic Strut
Billy Cobham/Colin Towns HR-Big Band
Meeting of the Spirits – A Celebration of the Mahavishnu Orchestra (IN + OUT Records IQR CD 77086-2)
Billy Cobham (drums),
HR-Big Band, soloists Heinz-Dieter Sauerborn, Peter Reiter, Martin Auer.
Composed by Narada Michael Walden. Arranged by Colin Towns.
Recorded: Darmstadt, Germany, January 27, 2006
Rating: 95/100 (learn more)
What a weird and wonderful world we live in. Here is Billy Cobham, an original member of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, playing Mahavishnu music with a German big band over 30 years after the MO broke up! Until this live performance, Cobham had never revisited the music.
The original Mahavishnu Orchestra's complex time signatures, most obvious in Cobham's powerful and complex drumming, could overwhelm musicians and listeners alike. But if you learned to lock in, you'd find yourself caught in a riptide of grooves. Arranger Towns has very cleverly, and probably not too easily, taken the polyrhythmic thing a step farther and added even more sub-themes. At first, there is almost too much going on. But once you remember the spirit of the original band, you realize the big band has to play OUT. This is music in which you will hear something new each time you listen.
Cobham remains a domineering drummer in this context. It is not so much that he doesn't miss a beat, as lame as that metaphor is. But three decades have transpired. He is more into space and he is more reflective in his solos. The HR band is full of accomplished musicians who seem to understand the nuances – even if some of them are hidden in the din – of Mahavishnu's music.
"Cosmic Strut" is, ironically, a tune written by Cobham's replacement in the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Narada Michael Walden. It is safe to say that Cobham never performed it before this concert! It is the kind of funk that the original Mahavishnu Orchestra never really played. That is what makes this cut so interesting. We get to hear Billy Cobham funk-out on Mahavishnu Mark II music and we get to listen to a really good big band do the same. Cobham rocks as the horns riff away. An aggressive straight-ahead saxophone solo enters as the riffs continue unabated. Following ably are the pianist and a trumpeter. The jazzed-up funk theme reenters and dissipates into the cosmos. It is three minutes or so of unbridled joy.
The music was the wonderful part. Also wonderful is that a year later, the HR-Big Band and Cobham got together again. But this time they were joined by Cobham's original band mate from Mahavishnu, violinist Jerry Goodman.
Now here is the weird part. Billy Cobham is playing Mahavishnu music again. And, weirder yet, Mahavishnu founder John McLaughlin wrote the liner notes for this album. But the weirdest part is that, unless some secret conversation has recently taken place, the two have not spoken to each other in many years. That is just plain weird. And sad.
Reviewer: Walter Kolosky