Sunday, July 14, 2013

Billy Cobham Compass Point Cleopatra 2013

The undisputed heavy weight champion of fusion drumming, Billy Cobham's previously unreleased Compass Point is a jaw dropping triumph.
Brent Black / @CriticalJazz

You have heard the age old argument, "...back when they played REAL fusion." Journey back to 1997 and legendary jazz / fusion icon Billy Cobham journeyed to New Providence in the Bahamas for a series of shows at the Compass Point Hotel. After sitting on the shelf for one reason or another we find arguably the finest live fusion recording ever and then toss in what may well be Cobham's best recorded work in his illustrious career, worst case scenario call it a master class for aspiring drummers everywhere. Just getting to play these shows proved quite the struggle as storms, logistical nightmares and a myriad of endless problems seemed destined to throw a monkey wrench in what was poised to be a magically time for Cobham and his formidable 4tet.

Highlights from this recording are all most too numerous to list here with the dramatic flair of "Fragolino" and the smooth as silk shuffle beat of "Les Cocos" being but two. Given the logistical nightmares of performing in the Bahamas and with the stage set  up over the open end of the pool it is certainly understandable that doubts began to creep in. Perhaps the most daunting task was cleaning up the audio as the gear used was to say the least "primitive" by today's standards yet the sound quality is pristine and with minimal compression so as to give the open warmth of a live show makes that transition to disc quite well.

"Mirage" is another track from the release that may exemplify just what Billy Cobham is all about. A funk infused neo soul vibe laid down over some of the most intense fusion that you may have thought was being kept in an undisclosed location as part of the jazz witness protection program. Bassist Stefan Rademacher turns in a rock steady performance throughout while guitarist Carl Orr and keyboardist Gary Husband are on point every step of the way.

Compass Point is one of those rare releases with tons of back story yet all the stars fell into perfect alignment for a fusion showcase that recalls a time when passion not rampant commercialism ruled the genre. Time can indeed be cruel but not to this Billy Cobham release that sounds as fresh sixteen years later as it was during those stellar gigs at the Compass Point. Sometimes traditional reviews are pointless and the critic is best served simply acknowledging which ever level of genius an artist such as Billy Cobham happens to be working from on a particular project.

Tracks: The Snaffler; Fragolino; Mushu Creole Blues; Egg Shells On My Head; Les Cocos; Mirage; Panama; Obliquely Speaking; Crosswinds / Stratus.

Personnel: Billy Cobham: Drums; Carl Orr: Guitar; Gary Husband: Keyboards; Stefan Rademacher: Bass.