Concert review of Billy Cobham's SPECTRUM @ LA BASTILLE, Houston by Michael
Point from DOWNBEAT magazine titled COBHAM STRIKES OIL IN HOUSTON.
Billy Cobham's new group is a uniformly strong quartet of inventive and disciplined musicians capable of matching anyone of merit within the nebulous boundaries of the jazz/rock world. Despite all of Cobham's threats to go completely commercial [DB,Dec.4], SPECTRUM is probably the most uncompromising unit he has played with in quite some time. The live sound of the band is a far cry from the disco/funk formula of Cobham's latest album, A FUNKY THIDE OF SINGS . The simplistic frills have been exchanged for tightly constructed flights of exploratory energy. Even Cobham's choice of a venue, the basement jazzroom LA BASTILLE, [which he selected after refusing several concert offers], seems to belie any attempt on his part to follow the crowd down the money trail at the expense of his music.
Much of SPECTRUM'S strength comes from George Duke. He compliments Cobham's personality and musical temperment, while adding another distinct composing talent to the band. Duke is allowed plenty of room to roam experimentally and makes the most of it with keyboard stylings that achieve a most enjoyable synthesis of electronic instrumentation and tasteful traditional technique. Cobham also enjoys quite a bit of musical freedom within the group's format since Doug Rauch, who previously worked with SANTANA, supplies a sturdy and unusually supple bass line that requires very little reinforcement. Cobham's crisp style easily provides needed punctuation and leaves him free to lead the music off into interesting directions from time to time.
Guitarist John Scofield is equally adept at both ends of the energy and volume scale, ripping off electrifying runs during the faster paced musical moments and contributing lovely lyrical acoustic work in one of his solo spots. Scofield was in exceptionally fine form during Duke's vocal number, LOVE, as he energized the song out of Duke's floating cushion of keyboard sounds with gentle coaxing that soon had the entire band in full flight on what had started as a relatively restrained tune.
SPECTRUM ran through the wide selection of past, present, and future recorded material during their three SRO days at LA BASTILLE . The power and flexibility of the group came through most clearly on the tunes from A FUNKY THIDE OF SINGS . They demonstrated the variance between Cobham's studio effort and the redirected live band quite well.
Cobhams's new line-up may not be the savior of the once-exciting jazz-rock sound and style that now consists of mostly pseudo-soul and excessive exotic noise; but they proved here in set after set that they are a dynamic and stimulating band in the best jazz sense. That should be enough for anyone.
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