Billy Cobham’s position as one of the finest drummer’s in Jazz can be traced back to the glory days of the ’70s Jazz-fusion era playing on a number of seminal recordings, most notably Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and Tribute To Jack Johnson. His foray into this new burgeoning sub-genre continued when he joined the harder rocking side of the fusionists, Mahavishnu Orchestra. Once their original line-up dissolved after three rapid and groundbreaking albums Cobham, tired of in-band fighting and being a hired hand, took the leader’s mantle and formed his own band Spectrum.
Since then he’s been firmly established as a marquee name and continues to attract sold out crowds wherever he performs – February 23, the penultimate performance of his six-night stand at Ronnie Scotts, London being no exception.
The sight of Cobham’s carefully constructed drum kit sprawled across half the stage alongside a steel pans player and a violin-playing keyboardist (one of two keys players) made for a more enjoyable and inventive set-up than most other jazz/fusion bands. Although the 75-minute set felt like one jam session with no breaks or song introductions, the band’s impeccable synchronicity and the hypnotic grooves created ensured an attentive audience was maintained throughout.
The undoubted highlight of the night was Cobham’s masterful drum solo; his command of all parts of his kit, coupled his ability to coax new sounds from it, is breathtaking and further illuminates his innovative repertoire. Anyone who had previously tuned out when the drum solo came around must surely change his or her views after seeing this.
The fun didn’t stop there however as percussionist Junior Gil picks up the baton (in this case his steel pan mallets) after Cobham’s solo and takes the lead with a flurry of delightfully melodic passages. On record, jazz-fusion can make for a challenging and uncomfortable listen. In a live arena especially one as intimate as Ronnie Scott’s, it translates to a higher and far more palatable plain.
The presence of a dazzling violinist and second keys player expands the bands sound – and signifies Cobham’s refusal to rest on his laurels as he continues to push boundaries. As the set came to an abrupt yet spectacular end, you couldn’t help but wonder where Cobham’s restless spirit and thunderous drums will take him next in the music world.