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BILLY COBHAM - Spectrum cover
4.33 | 46 ratings | 7 reviews
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Album · 1973

Filed under Fusion


A1 Quadrant 4 4:18
A2a Searching For The Right Door 1:19
A2b Spectrum 5:07
A3a Anxiety 1:40
A3b Taurian Matador 3:03
B1a Stratus Part 1 2:58
B1b Stratus Part 2 6:50
B2a To The Women In My Life 0:48
B2b Le Lis 3:17
B3a Snoopy's Search 1:00
B3b Red Baron 6:37


Bass Guitar [Fender Bass] – Lee Sklar(tracks: A1, A2b, A3b to B1b, B3b)
Electric Piano, Piano, Synthesizer [Moog] – Jan Hammer (tracks: A1, A2b, A3b to B1b, B3b)
Guitar – Tommy Bolin (tracks: A1, A2b, A3b to B1b, B3b)
Percussion – Billy Cobham

About this release

Atlantic ‎– SD 7268 (US)

Recorded at Electric Lady Studios, New York, N.Y.

Thanks to snobb for the updates


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Cobham delivers quite an attack on his first solo album, developing a style of fusion that it is somehow both aggressive and smooth – the funk is mostly fast and the rock is mostly flowing, creating something both unlike the ‘Mahavishnu Orchestra’ and deeply indebted to it at the same time.

‘Spectrum’ is fairly relentless, firing away right off the mark, where Cobham’s charging drums compete with solos from Hammer and Bolin in ‘Quadrant 4.’ It sets the tone for much of the album, though hardly all of it. Billy has certainly gathered a great lineup, and they manage to get a lot out of the ‘full steam’ ahead approach to some of the music, but probably more enjoyable to me are the funkier, somewhat slower pieces. These establish more of a groove, like ‘Taurian Matador’ or the fantastic ‘Stratus’ which is led by the beat and wonderfully effective bass line from Lee Sklar. The piece has a more relaxed feel, as if no-one is trying to impress anyone, listener or each other, but is instead having a great time. Everyone feeds off the vibe, whether it’s the keys or the wonderful lead work from Bolin.

Certainly every piece isn’t a wondrous composition but there are enough great moments on the record to make for pretty exciting stuff. While not a highlight, ‘Red Baron’ is certainly fun and elsewhere flute and saxes add welcome texture to the record, as ‘Spectrum’ sometimes suffers (to my ears) from an unpleasant synth sound. This isn’t an awful thing by any stretch, but I just didn’t enjoy it all that much.

But overall? Four stars easy.
The accessible, though effective and addictive, entry to the Jazz Rock world...

Being a huge fan of Deep Purple, specially of their record featuring Tommy Bolin, Come Taste the Band, I was searching back then what else had this incredible and unique guitarist had made. First thing to come up was obviously this record, Spectrum by a unknown drummer for me at that time. Bought it with no hesitation, and when I first played it I can assure you that I was no less than astonished! Already from the initial blast-off of Cobham's rapid show-off drumming and Jan Hammer's fast paced Moog, I had to raise the speakers volume up to 11.

After having listened to the entire album, I really felt that Tommy Bolin's guitar work in here had really outdone his already marvelous work he had done with Deep Purple. In here he's capable of expressing much more than what he was allowed to express with Deep Purple; a totally mind-blowing mix of powerful rock-esque tones with funk and jazz sensibilities, as well as completely unique crazy sounds: this was immediately shown in the opener, Quadrant 4, though in Stratus can also be easily heard.

However that's as far how Tommy Bolin sounded, that said, he's not the only one sparking in here. Already knowing it's a solo album by a drummer, Billy Cobham, (and he's not any drummer) you must expect lots of show-offs by him as well, that is in each of the tunes the intro is done by him solely and of course all along the tunes his presence is always worth of mention; indeed a master of the drum-case.

Also, let's not forget of the Moog-master player, Jan Hammer, who few other players can match his proficiency on the synths, Hancock, Duke and Corea come to my mind. In this record he also standouts with lots of fresh sounds and ideas very much alike as he did with Mahavishnu Orchestra, worth mentioning is the eternal duels against Tommy Bolin, in which in the end you really can't be sure who really won, since both offer such creative and blasting solos: clear example of this is Taurian Matador.

So far from the descriptions from the standout members makes it seem more of a 'rock' record than a Jazz one, doesn't it? Well, don't think it's like that, you got Joe Farell, from the early Return to Forever line-up, delivering jazzy sax/flute melodies among some of the tunes, these are: Le Lis and Spectrum. And of course let's not forget that Tommy Bolin, Jan Hammer and Billy Cobham are very inclined towards jazz, so in the end do expect a full- blown jazz jock record with lots of funky and rock leanings, but still faithful to the jazz-roots.

The musicianship on board needs no more mention, while the compositions not actually being the most inventive nor most complex, and definitely any of the classic fusion bands really outdo anything on here on those terms(composition), they still all groove with such energy and become instantly addictive since day one, which in this case few of the classic jazz rock bands can manage to do that.

Masterpiece by Billy Cobham, Tommy Bolin, Jan Hammer & Co.
Billy Cobham already had a top-notch pedigree stemming from his sessions with Miles Davis on his revolutionary "Bitches Brew," but his awe-inspiring drumming with The Mahavishnu Orchestra made him a household name among musicians of all genres in the early 70s. This well-deserved popularity helped him to land a record deal, assemble a group of virtuosos and cut his first solo album in 1973. But rather than write the kind of complex and difficult-to-assimilate tunes that had characterized his previous musical involvements, Billy optioned to string together a collection of powerful, energized instrumentals that placed a heavy emphasis on the rock dimension of Jazz Rock/fusion. Aware that he wouldn't have weeks of studio time to allow for unlimited takes in the pursuit of perfect tracks (not that these are loose by any means), Cobham aimed for emotional spontaneity mixed with adrenaline and the result is a joyous, unbridled album of great songs. The extraordinary keyboard wizard Jan Hammer and Billy waste no time loitering in front of the album as they come charging out of the gate in a full sprint on "Quadrant 4." With Cobham's double bass drums rumbling like a freight train, the tune's laughing melody pulls you in without a struggle and sets you up for the full brunt of Tommy Bolin's fierce, fire-breathing guitar. The indispensable gadget he utilizes so expertly, causing his solo to explode out of your speakers is the famous Echoplex and I'm not convinced that modern technology has yet to fully duplicate (much less improve on) its unique capabilities. This project most definitely sprang from the mind of a drummer so from time to time you are treated to short but very expressive percussion forays like "Searching for the Right Door" where Billy shows off his meticulously fine-tuned kit. It leads to "Spectrum," a fine modern jazz piece that spotlights Joe Farrell's flute and soprano sax and Jimmy Owens' flugelhorn. It's presented in a tricky 7/8 time signature and Joe's sax break in particular is exquisite. "Anxiety" is another quick-to-pass drum sequence that serves as the intro for "Taurian Matador," a fast and funky strut with a more involved melody line that ends up in a battle of riffs between Hammer and Bolin that will tear your head off. A word here about Tommy. With his sterling reputation Billy could have recruited any number of incredible jazz guitarists to play on this album but I think he chose Bolin because he didn't want intricacy, he wanted dazzling fireworks and to hell with precision. Tommy was the right choice because he turns in some of the most intense guitar rides you'll ever hear.

"Stratus" is the tune that got the all-important radio airplay and everybody's attention. And for good reason. It's a monster cut. Smooth, spacey sounds from Jan and Tommy are followed by Cobham's light-speed noodlings and samplings on the Moog synthesizer drum, then a clean closed roll ends with a hard snap of the snare and off you go. One of the most appealing things about Billy's compositions is his ability to come up with memorable melodies and this is one of his best. Here Cobham and bassist Lee Sklar lay down a rhythm track that's tighter than the seals on a submarine but Billy's not content to just sit back and play the downbeat. He's an interactive drummer. When Bolin gets to shredding on his Strat Billy is right there with him, lifting the whole song into orbit. Same thing with Hammer's solo, then Cobham flies over the skins and a repeating riff as the song trails off into the ether. The tune is just under 10 minutes of pure sizzle. Billy wisely inserts some serenity at this point with Jan's beautiful acoustic piano rendition of "To the Women in my Life," followed by the Latin-flavored "Le Lis" that glides along gracefully like a lithe dancer. Hammer supplies a tastefully restrained synthesizer lead to complement Owens' skill on trumpet. "Snoopy's Search" is a final but furious taste of the drum synth that slows to a lone pulse before the band slides into "Red Baron." The song has a contagious funky feel and one of the coolest melody lines ever. Tommy's subdued tone is priceless and he throws in a few harmonics hither and yon to keep you intrigued. Hammer storms in with some lightning from his electric piano and guides you the rest of the way home.

This is a masterpiece not because it is immaculate or world changing or absolutely mind- blowing but because it is so consistently and undeniably GOOD. And I mean that in the best way. There's not a skip-over track to be found and there's a delightful atmosphere of shared, mutual gratification emanating from the musicians involved that seeps right out of the music directly into the heart. It's a one of a kind album that will appeal to and entertain your jazz-lovin' ears even if you don't usually venture anywhere near jazz rock/fusion. Do yourself a favor and add this to your collection. Play it when you need some pep in your step. It's like sunshine for the soul.

Members reviews

Mahavishnu Orchestra legend Billy Cobham is one of the drum masters and on his debut album he unleashes a furious tirade of percussion madness along with his amazing congregation of virtuoso musicians. The opening track of "Spectrum", 'Quadrant 4', is an incredible adrenaline charged belter, featuring frenetic lead guitar of Bolin that blazes with wah wah and high string bends that will astonish. There is a strong jazz rock feel present with the percussion but it is the lead guitar soloing and the Moog solos that makes this a masterpiece track.

Next up is a drum solo that is very emotionally riven ranging from outbursts to restrained measured tempos. The track 'Searching For The Right Door/ Spectrum' is certainly a jazz fest of woodwind, bass, drums and guitar virtuosity. The sax soloing is as mind blowing as Banton at his best.

Next is 'Anxiety/ Taurian Matador' that is again broken into 2 sections, the first being a short interlude of drum power, and then an outbreak of jazz lunacy. Bolin's guitar work is excellent again, with trade offs between the Hammer's keyboard phrases.

'Stratus' follows a 9:50 piece, that received accolades over the years and even reached the masses as an edited single. I love Sklar's pulsating bass on this and melodic hooks that lock into a cool groove. This one simmers along beautifully, with some psych space rock sounds, and an overall jamming vibe like the psychedelic 60s.

Next is 'To The Women In My Life/ Le Lis' with piano at first and then reaching deep into a well of Latin tones on trumpets. The funky vibe is cool but this is not my favourite style, though not a bad break from the wild music previous. 'Snoopy's Search/ Red Baron' follows, opening with space invader electronic effects that are outdated but fun in a retro sense. Then a cool as ice jazz groove locks in with some great guitar work.

Overall this is an incredible procession of jazz brilliance focussing on the drums, similar to the infamous "Let There Be Drums". At least one of the tracks here ends up on a compilation, sometimes all three 'Quantum 4', 'Stratus' and 'Snoopy's Baron', and sometimes even more. It certainly is one of the best jazz fusion albums I have heard, on a par with Mahavishnu Orchestra.
Recorded just under a fortnight before the abotive sessions for the Mahavishnu Orchestra's third studio album (which would eventually see release as The Lost Trident Sessions), Billy Cobham's solo Spectrum is a drumming tour de force which also showcases Tommy Bolin's guitar mastery. Fellow Mahavishnu member Jan Hammer gets to indulge a quirkier side of his keyboard playing, and in general the album has a lighter and more playful mood than, say, The Inner Mounting Flame and Birds of Fire. Short, brief, and to the point, the album is a great listen for anyone wanting to explore the classic Mahavishnu lineup's careers beyond the group's first few albums.
Having already established himself as one of fusion's greatest drummers through his work with Miles Davis and Mahavishnu Orchestra, Billy Cobham's first solo album even further secured his position as a drumming god. Throughout the course of Spectrum, Billy Cobham and company dish out some of the most impressive playing you'll ever hear on a fusion album - not at all surprising when you take a look at the star-studded lineup including Tommy Bolin on guitar, Jan Hammer on keyboards, and Lee Sklar on bass (to name but a few). In addition to being an unbelievable journey of virtuosic musicianship, Spectrum is also one of the most important albums in early seventies' fusion. While there's still a very firm root in jazz music, Cobham lets more rock and funk into his sound than many other fusion players were doing at the time. In short, Spectrum is an innovative, technically astounding, and downright essential example of classic fusion.

Spectrum shows us right from the very beginning that this is an album that's every bit as directed towards the rock audience as it is for the jazz crowd - the blistering opening number "Quadrant 4" makes it clear through its fast-paced drumming and rapid fire guitar and keyboard soloing that this is one of the more unique fusion albums from its time period. The rest of the album rides the border between rock, fusion, and funk, often melding the three into a mix that's distinctly Cobham's own. Most of the album is excellent, but the title track, "Le Lis", and "Red Baron" have always stood out to me as particularly great. Though most folks disagree, I do find Spectrum occasionally drifting into endless displays of technicality rather than anything particularly memorable - though the whole album makes for a fun listen, not all of it is especially noteworthy once its playing time is over. I think this is something that Cobham perfected on future releases, and I actually regard Total Eclipse as a much more consistent release than Spectrum. That's not to discount the music on Spectrum, however - Cobham clearly wrote some great tunes for this album, but I just tend to think that his skills sharpened even more over the next few albums.

Even though Spectrum may not be my favorite release from Billy Cobham, there's still no denying that this is a spectacular classic fusion album. The musicianship is through the roof, the production is sleek and professional, and the majority of the music here is memorable - factor in the historical importance, and it looks like Spectrum is an essential listen for any fan of the genre. I always have a great time when I hear Spectrum, and I'd say 4 stars are well-deserved for this impressive debut.
Sean Trane
While still on board with Mahavishnu Orchestra, Billy Cobham started thinking about releasing his own solo album as a solution to his frustration, which he shared with his bandmates. Most likely due to McLaughlin's authoritarian leadership of MO, the group was starting to implode by the summer of 73 and some conflicts lead to the "loss" of the Trident sessions that was supposed to the group's third album and Columbia released a live album instead. The fact was that most of the group resented McL's being the sole songwriter. Hammer, Laird and Goodman where often at odds with McL, but Cobham avoided the feud, because he was planning his future solo album Spectrum. So when MO did implode, Billy was ready with his project and entered the Electric Lady studios (Hendrix facility) with ex-MO Jan Hammer, bright hope guitarist Tommy Bolin (future Purple disaster) and studio-rat bassist Sklar. On two tracks, he opted on calling Ron Carter, Baretto and horn player Owens and Farrell.

As collab Hammer was toying around with the Moog, the mood was for experimentations throughout the three weeks it took to record the album, but this risk-taking might mean that the album hasn't aged all that well. One of the amazing things is that Spectrum doesn't sound like a MO offshoot, but more like a later 70's Jeff Beck album, this right from the energy-packed opening track Quadrant 4 all the way to the closing Red Baron track. With Hammer being an obvious link (but then again to MO as well), then it leaves Tommy Bolin's guitar to induce that JB sound. The only track where you might hear a hint of MO is the title track's start (in 7/4), but as soon as Owens' sax enters, it is gone. Taurian Matador again gives you the JB feel

The album's centrepiece (opening the flipside) is the 10-mins Stratus, starting on spacey sounds, with Cobham's lightning fast drumming and Hammer's electronic twiddles on the Moog for an intro, before Bolin takes the track into the open some three minutes into the track. Soon followed by Hammer's delightful electric piano (almost Manzarek crossing Auger), the album hits its peak with the improbable certainty that it won't be topped again.

Three drum solo are spread throughout the album and for this writer finding just one of them being more than enough, this might sound like pure hell. Only Cobham's extraordinary skills makes that these three drum pieces manage to get past the first few repeated listens without much harm, they inevitably hamper the album's enjoyment in the long run. Nevertheless, no matter how you feel about drum solos, Cobham is shining harder than the sun throughout the whole album, extending his craft beyond reason, playing with two sticks per hands on most tracks. The Women/Le Lis combi track is rather different with Hammer doing the intro, and the extended line-up bring the album into softer territory, but it doesn't lmean anyless challenging. Hammer repeats his Moog noodlings in Snoopy's Search, but again the experimentations sound dated (more than Tangerine Dream's experiments really). As mentioned above, Red Baron reeks again of JB feel, the track having a lovely funky reggae almost-lazy beat, allowing Hammer's electric piano tio tear up, the place, Bolin remaining in the background, thus negating the Beck experience.

Difficult not to give less than essential rating to such an album, but the repeated drum showcases (show-offs) are somewhat a drawback and unfortunately the album gets a below 4 stars rating, while retaining its essential status.

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