BILLY COBHAM — Spectrum (review)

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