Billy Cobham – Spectrum – 4/5
Welcome to another verifiable masterclass in jazz fusion, delivered by the drummer Billy Cobham who often feels rather understated in this entourage of delight. With a hefty focus on three areas; the guitars (Tommy Bolin), the keyboards (Jan Hammer) and Cobham himself on the drums, it results in a creative – if relatively short – and light feeling album. With plenty of smooth rock-infused grooves littered throughout its duration, it results in a solid listen.
At times feeling almost like a sort of jazz ambient, it’s a psychedelic mood to have playing in the background (e.g. Stratus), despite the number of musicians who worked in the background on this album (particularly the bass, delivering a simplistic but consistent base rhythm) there is never felt a sense of fighting for control, a battle to be heard. Everything is done in such a way so as to blend together in an effortless calm - not to say it doesn’t have a kick, but that it feels rather controlled. As expected the drums perform well, if not perhaps to the standard of some of the other drummers in the genre, relying too heavily on speed and with not enough variation at times, but the fact he composed all the music present here demands him more credit than that.
The guitars and keyboards play off of each other well, Bolin in particularly excelling, delivering a knockout performance wherever allowed, managing to twist and turn in a twang-filled, acid-trip-inducing ecstasy which the rest of the album has difficulty living up to. The keyboards are often played in one of two manners, as a backing atmosphere for other instruments, or as a ‘keytar,’ taking a more prominent lead, often interchanged with the guitars or other backing instruments. The final spotlight position is taken in the title track by the sax (Joe Farrell), which with a slightly chaotic edge steps up to the task of matching the guitars, and only just falls short.
This has been noted as one of the earliest and most influential jazz fusion albums to have been written, and it’s not difficult to see why. Each instrument taking its turn to prove they can add rock to the jazz repertoire and come up with something worthy of bearing their genre’s name, this special couldn’t be considered an introduction to the genre without it being present.
Highlights: Quadrant 4, Aurian Matador, Stratus