Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Billy Cobham & George Duke Band - 1976-02-18 - McAlister Auditorium, New Orleans, LA

Frankenstein goes to the disco...

Billy Cobham gets sort of a bum rap. I bet if I asked ten people what they thought of him, nine wouldn't know anything and the tenth would suggest he's that guy who drums really fast for Mahavishnu Orchestra. But there's a lot more to him than that. There's his solo records, where he shows a deft touch: never dominating the scene, but always propelling the groove forward. There's his time backing up Jack Bruce, Miles Davis or Bob Weir. And don't forget his composing chops: "Stratus" or "Red Baron" aren't exactly standards, but are highlights of the fusion era.

My favourite period, however, is when he played alongside George Duke, John Scofield and Alphonso Johnson. This short-lived lineup toured the world and had a live record, the underwhelming "Live" on Tour In Europe. Says the Penguin guide to jazz: "It hasn't aged at all well." I get where they're coming from.

However, as a live unit this band is compelling and exciting. On record, they're chopped up and fitted with questionable song choices. On bootleg, they're full of long, interesting jams, tricky rhythmic passages and some really great grooves. Scofield still had hair back in '76, and he played with a reckless abandon he's never really had since. Johnson plays like he's happy to have gotten back to playing fun, funky music and not listening to Weather Report play pop-jazz. Duke was fresh off a stint with Zappa, so he was game for tricky rhythms and was more than willing to goof off into the microphone. And Cobham? He's everywhere, and nowhere. His fingers are everywhere, and if you focus in on him, his playing is outstanding: quick, tricky and precise. But he never overwhelms the music. A true drummer's touch, I'd say.

This show is from early in their tour. Compared to a more popular bootleg from a month later in New York, the band hasn't quite gone into warp drive yet, but they're still cruising at full impulse. Expect long jams, a few familar themes and some general goofing off by Duke and Cobham. Why Atlantic hasn't released a full concert by this lineup is beyond me.

1 comment:

M. Milner said...

Duke/Cobham '76: http://www.mediafire.com/file/upwaqu6uupxd4fd/BCGD_-_NO76.zip