By Charles Hallman
The energy he displayed during a recent show in town truly belies Billy Cobham’s age.
The 69-year-old jazz fusion drummer has been on the road with his Spectrum 40 tour. “We have been accelerating as we went along. We started in St. Petersburg [Florida] then went to Atlanta; up to Seattle, down to Portland then on to to Albuquerque . . . and now we are in Minneapolis,” said Cobham to the MSR after his last set October 1 at the Dakota in downtown Minneapolis. He admitted that all through the show, he fed off the capacity crowd’s energy as he played his legendary hits from the 70s as well as more recent tunes.
“They give us something and we are able to re-generate the energy they provide us,” says Cobham.
Cobham’s nine-song set – the second of his one-night stand, began fast and kept going, slowing down only occasionally not to take a breath himself but instead to give the audience a reflective pause. He told the Dakota audience that his daughter is a Macalester grad, but this wasn’t said for any temporary hometown status because Cobham felt at home all night long.
“It is so much fun playing in Minneapolis,” he pointed out.
He dedicated “Two Numbers” to the late Michael Brecker and the recently deceased George Duke, just two of the lengthy legendary list of musicians he played with over his five-decades-plus career, which first captured the public’s ear when he help founded the Mahavishnu Orchestra in the early 1970s. The song was a reverently mellow piece whose ebb and flow rhythm was evident throughout.
“Radioactive” displayed Cobham’s trademark jazz fusion style that he helped pioneered. His three other band mates: guitarist Dean Brown, keyboardist Gary Husband and Ric Fierabracci on bass respectfully left the stage which give him ample room and musical space to do a Spectrum-like solo.
If there was a downer that night, it was Husband’s “If the Animals Had Guns Too,” which Cobham beforehand joked about its title. I’m glad they didn’t spend too much time on the piece, because it sounded wild and too often disjointed. However Cobham rebounded nicely on “Heather” from his second solo album Crosswinds – it was this reporter’s first time hearing it live and the drummer did nothing to alter its simplicity first heard back in college on vinyl or later on CD. Husband’s keyboards and Fierabrucci’s bass also set the serenity for the oft-sampled classic.
“I’ve listened to him for decades, and I started playing with him about 10 years ago,” recalls Fierabrucci. “I can almost sense what he is going to do. We have a good rapport.”
Another Cobham’s pulse-racing drum solo, this time at the end of “Quantum Four” [from his first album Spectrum] segued nicely into the title track of that breakout album – it was a semi-mellow tune he used to temporary close the set. However, for his curtain call, Cobham played “Red Baron,” also from Spectrum. It had an updated feel, the classic song nevertheless maintained its original flow and sent the late night Dakota audience into that good, good night fully satisfied.
So was Cobham, whose Spectrum 40 tour has scheduled stops in the next couple of months in Canada, France, Ireland and Switzerland. Based on his posted calendar on his web site, he is not slowing down any time soon.
“I feel real, real blessed. It’s been a great night for us here for the first time at the Dakota. I hope it won’t be the last,” he surmises.
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