BILLY COBHAM — Spectrum (review)

BILLY COBHAM — Spectrum album cover Album · 1973 · Fusion Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
J-Man
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.
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