Review of LIFE AND TIMES from DOWNBEAT August 1976
Ever since John McLaughlin disbanded the original MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA, Billy Cobham has been struggling to reclaim the stature and acclaim that he so deservedly gained during his tenure as the band's powerhouse drummer. But a series of ill-timed and ill-conceived albums, showcasing questionable writing talents and lackluster arrangements , only served to disenchant even his staunchest admirers. His concert reputation floundered as well, a predicament Cobham has ascribed to second-rate tour circuits. The truth, though, is that the performances themselves ranked second-rate, due primarily to Billy's failure to surround himself with challenging musicians.
Perhaps it's premature to say that Cobham's back on the righteous track., but his new band consisting of George Duke on keyboards , John Scofield on guitar, and Alphonso Johnson on bass, is decidedly an improvement over any previous band., simply because they function as a working partnership. LIFE AND TIMES,[Doug Rauch, not Johnson plays bass on the album] is reasonable space filler, Cobham's best since SPECTRUM, although he should have given the group a chance to coalesce before recording it. The title composition is typical of Cobham's musical platitude, a competent if unimaginative linking of riffs and familiar chord formations, making for music that is both bearable and forgettable. The performances, however, transform the whole affair into something memorable and promising.
The best moments on LIFE AND TIMES, interestingly, are the ballads, SIESTA and SONG FOR A FRIEND, Pt.1 [Part 2 is extraneous]. George Duke's effective, romantic intro to the latter sets the perfect mood for Richard Davis' and John Scofield's acoustic exchanges, while on the latter Cobham's drumming is truly instrumental in guiding Duke and Scofield's subtle forays.
Largely, the remaining tracks come under the funk heading , undoubtedly a natural trend for these musicians' inclinations, ultimately a stationary course, maybe even in the question of their commercial success. Does everybody really want to hear George, Billy and Alphonso funking their brains out? Or is the season ripe for pushing the fusion frontier to a bolder front? For all of his setbacks and misjudgments, Cobham remains a vital musician in the current music scene, one deeply and impressively in touch with the jazz heritage. Whether he will contribute significantly to its evolution is yet to be seen. The true test of Billy's growth will be measured in his ability to collaborate not dominate.
RATING : 3 STARS
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