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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Billy Cobham

Compass Point

Review by Gary Hill

I was kind of expecting a fusion album here. I’d have to say that there are a few moments that land there, but overall this is more pure jazz. It’s a live album and features some awesome performances. While the general musical tone and style don’t vary much, there is plenty of variety here, sometimes within each piece. Every member of the group puts in a top-notch performance and this just grooves. I love this album and it might well land in my “best of 2013” list.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Disc 1
The Snaffler
After a spoken introduction these guys fire out into a killer fusion jam that has some definite funk in the mix. As this continues to evolve they have some dramatic and high powered moments. Different instruments lead at different points and this is just plain awesome. The driving bass line is very tasty and there are some great guitar solo moments, too. This beast covers a lot of musical ground and gets pretty intense at times. There is even a section that feels a bit like southern rock turned jam band.
Fragolino
There is sort of a stuttering vibe as this one opens. After this intense introduction, though, it drops to mellower, melodic fusion to carry forward. Eventually it powers back out and there is some intense guitar soloing before they drop it back for a piano driven movement. Things intensify again from there as they continue. This one gets into some pretty freeform and dissonant territory at times. Around the six minute mark it makes an abrupt turn back to mellower, more melodic music. That doesn’t last long, though and they explode back out into some fierce jazz from there. More rather noisy and quite frantic jamming eventually ensues.
Mushu Creole Blues
A drum solo starts things off here. After a time the group join and we’re out into a melodic jam with a lot of energy. Then it drops to a mellower groove that just oozes cool. This keeps evolving, dropping way down after a bit. Around the four minute mark (a little before actually) it turns to an old school blues romp. After a time it drops way down again with the piano taking the lead. They eventually intensify back out from there. Then it drops to another percussion showcase. This one is more extensive than the one that opened the piece. They bring it out from there in a classic jazz jam and power through a wind up to close the tune.
Egg Shells on My Head
This comes in slow and melodic. It’s definitely got a tasty old school jazz sound in place. Much less crazed in terms of shifts and changes, this tune is often dominated by the bass. It’s quite a melodic and pretty straightforward musical journey. Yet, it still has plenty of drama and class.
Les Cocos
Another that’s more of a straight road and more mainstream jazz, this has more energy than the previous tune. It’s a great piece of music that allows all the musicians to get some showcase time. There are some little side-trips on this ride, but it’s more straightforward than a lot of them here.
Disc 2
Mirage
More of a fusion sound pervades this. There’s a driving bass a times. This is one with a lot more dynamic range and variety. It gets very intense as times, too. There is some killer guitar soloing on this one. This another tune where Cobham gets to solo for a time. After that solo they turn it to slower, more melodic jazz for a short time before powering back out into the same smoking hot jamming we’ve heard throughout this tune.
Panama
Percussion starts it off here and piano is the next to join. They gradually build out from there in a mellow, slow moving jam. After a time they take it out into a mid-tempo, more powered up jazz foray. It drops back down and the guitar solos. Then they fire back up again getting even more intense. Eventually, though, they take it back down for a more sedate, rather freeform musical journey led by the guitar. After a time the keyboards take over in that lead role. They launch it out into more of a powerhouse jam after a time. Once more they drop it back again later.
Obliquely Speaking
Scorching hot, fast paced fusion opens this up and they build out from there. As they work out variants on this there’s a killer bass and percussion jam that emerges. The rest of the group start to work over that backdrop and this just keeps growing. As the guitar soloing takes over later it gets very intense and rather noisy. Then, just as it seems about to explode into metallic territory, the piano takes over in the soloing department and brings it all back into pure fusion sound. They get quite intense as they keep jamming on this musical concept.
Crosswinds / Stratus
Percussion leads this off. When the other instruments join it’s in a pulsing, rhythmic jam that’s among the coolest passages of the set. The guitar that comes over the top has a definite Dixie Dregs vibe at times. As the keyboards start to solo the piece just screams “cool!” The first half of this is a pretty straightahead journey. They drop it down to a different sound (I’m guessing the “Stratus” section) after the five minute mark. This has more of a space rock turns fusion feeling to it. There is some intriguing jamming and some cool melodies ensue. The guitar soloing later on this gets downright noisy and seemingly freeform. Around the ten minute mark it twists to something that’s decidedly funky. That holds until a quick burst of intense freeform jamming ends the whole show.
 
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