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Billy Cobham - Spectrum CD (album) cover


Billy Cobham


Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.28 | 528 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars Intersection of Two Fan Bases Secret Favorite = Classic

As a young guitar nerd in the late 80's most of my heroes referred back to jazz-rock pickers from the 70's as their influences. I checked out McLaughlin, DiMeola, and the usual suspects but for the most part the music was over my head at the time. And then I found Tommy Bolin. Bolin was a rocker with jazz sensibilities, rather than the other way around, and for some reason his playing just connected with me. Rather than relying on monster theory or note choice, he used everything he could to create dynamic cascades of sound out of the guitar. He became the absolute master of a 70's effect box that was archaic, noisy, and difficult to harness, the Echoplex. That effect became the defining aspect of his playing and he the defining player for the effect.

The absolute apex of Tommy's adventurousness is found on Billy Cobham's debut album, Spectrum. The opening song, Quadrant 4, is a strangely sparse solo duel between Bolin and keyboardist Jan Hammer. Tommy builds from pentatonic runs to early whammy bar aggression to finish with the Echoplex in its crazy glory - and jazz-rock may still have never reached that peak of rocking fire again. Later in the album, we get a good sampling of other elements of Tommy's playing including his funky comping, more extended lines, and a range of tones, but the Quadrant 4 solo is considered one of, if not THE high point of Tommy's playing by the TB fan community. (This has included me for over 20 years. For those interested, those "other" aspects are on even greater display on Alphonse Mouzon's allegedly copycat album to this one, Mind Transplant.)

Spectrum's significance at the time had little to do with Tommy Bolin, whose inclusion probably had some jazz fans scratching their heads prior to hearing the album. The album is first and foremost Cobham breaking free of the confines of Mahavishnu Orchestra and what a fine, funky, frisky emergence it is. His chops dazzle but always with a deep groove. Before Phil Collins brought in the gated snare or beats were corrected with Pro Tools, the 70's were the golden age of the drummer. And this drummer and this album are perhaps the primary standard bearers. Cobham takes many extended breaks for himself (yes perhaps a little indulgent, but it is his solo album) but as you take in this album a couple of times, they are a natural part of the flow of the music.

As others have said, this album is also a transition point between jazz fusion which included rock elements and true jazz-rock that Jeff Beck went on to remake his name performing. The time is more straight, the chord progressions more linear, and the attitude is just more rocking. Hammer plays like a demon, set loose and spurred on by both Cobham and Bolin. The group just sounds like they're totally enjoying the music they're making. It's a treat to listen to.

It doesn't get much more essential than this.

Negoba | 5/5 |


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