Rudiments: The Billy Cobham Anthology
Not for the terminally jittery, high-energy jazz-rock fusion drummer Billy Cobham’s anthology of his Atlantic Records tenure from 1973’s Spectrum until 1978’s Inner Conflicts is like a straight shot of double espresso to the brain. Arguably his most inspired solo years, and certainly his most prolific, these 24 tracks spread over two discs capture every rimshot, roll and kick of one of music’s best and most respected drummers. Fresh out of the legendary original version of John McLaughlin’s Mahavisnu Orchestra — one of the first popular jazz-rock fusion outfits and still one of the finest — Cobham exploded with his debut Spectrum, still his best selling album. With a stellar supporting cast featuring rocker Tommy Bolin (Deep Purple, James Gang) on guitar as well as fellow Mahavishnu-man Jan Hammer on keyboards, Spectrum remains the stickman’s finest hour as well as a textbook example of how a drummer can construct a cohesive album around his talents without resorting to overlong solos. This compilation kicks off with over a half-hour of music from the groundbreaking disc.
Cobham went on to add horns and change personnel consistently on his following releases, Crosswinds, Total Eclipse, and A Funky Thide of Sings. Two live albums, 1975’s Shabazz, which includes the thunderous 13-minute title track, and ’76s collaboration with ex-Zappa keyboardist George Duke show how well his approach worked on the concert stage, although the latter waters down the disc with a sappy Duke vocal on the lame fuzak of “Do What Cha Wanna.” Anthology captures all the highlights as Cobham shifted through five years of rock, jazz-rock, straight ahead jazz, funk, and finally, disco, although thankfully, the latter was after the years covered here. This collection of his best work for the Atlantic label does a tremendous job in presenting these tracks ó many of which have never been available on CD — in terrific sound where Cobham’s incendiary trap-work can be best appreciated in the context of his amazing bands. On many cuts, it sounds like there are at least two drummers playing simultaneously, but it’s just Billy’s two hands and feet flailing away with lightning precision. The extensive 28-page booklet with Cobham’s quotes, track-by-track documentation and a complete career overview is alone worth the price of the album.
An essential purchase for any aspiring drummer or jazz-rock fan, Anthology is a near perfect representation of Cobham’s early solo years, and a consistently thrilling listen. With a high-energy collection like this, who needs caffeine, anyway?