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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Billy Cobham

Palindrome

Review by Larry Toering

Billy Cobham is usually referred to as contemporary jazz or jazz/fusion artist, but he also crossed over into prog territory and it appears it has not left him after all these years. Palindrome is the second in his Fruit Of The Loom multi-volume set (the first disc in the set bearing the set title as its own), but I have to hear them in reverse due to the order they're shipped. If the first one is anywhere near as good as this, I will be all the more amazed. This is harking back to the days of albums of fine art such as Spectrum and others, so that is why it gets a “prog” tag here.

It's simply chock full of some of the wildest arrangements this side of those great albums Cobham recorded in the 70s. It comes complete with some tracks his parents used to love and some more indicative of his current musical direction. This is simply another one for the record books, like only he can pull off. The songs are crazy with musicianship of the highest order. In addition, it is beautifully arranged and produced. Expect nothing but the best here, as Cobham continues to establish his place in music history. He is joined by a stellar line-up of first class musicians. This is as good as instrumental rock gets, jazz school or not. Make no mistake about it, we're talking about a sheer masterstoke of cosmic music! I just can't say enough about it, except there is no one like this drum master.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2012  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Moon Germs

Right away a traditional jazz intro kicks in and we're off to the big band feel with an opener that doesn't exactly establish the breakneck pace which follows. This winds up going through some very tasty and searing guitar playing and a solo, with horns backing nicely. There’s a groove that keeps it altogether with bits of jazz organ by Christophe Cravero, who also gets a solo. Altogether this is one of the mellower cuts.

Two For Juan

This carries things right along at just a tad faster pace. The first thing you notice, of course, is Cobham's signature drumming, which is not exactly orthodox. In fact it's some of the most amazing percussion you're likely to hear. On this track things stay the jazz course with occasional bursts of excitement before slowing completely down into a different type of keyboard solo, again by Cravero. Then a trombone solo comes sparring in, and a killer guitar solo appears before it slows down and Cobham takes control with some outstanding  fills. Also duly noted here is the awesome string arrangement and bass chords that tend to blow away the listener. It all comes to an end with some very interesting Latin percussion from Marco Lobo. The whole track is simply hypnotic.

Obliquely Speaking

This one instantly pours on the jazz charm, as it goes into a bouncy little number that only slows down for the keyboard solo. It’s not what you'd expect after the previous two, but not a bad tune to say the least. It's just more of the same with perhaps less complexity and dynamics.

Isle Of Skye

Slowing things way down on this number, the band sound like they're just jamming along to whatever piece of music they each hear. This is a very freestyle number with some spacey parts toward the end to iron out the groove. It’s a great subdued jam of sorts, but by no means a disjointed one.

A Days Grace

This is even slower, but it makes for a good continuation of the previous track. If anything, it’s a taste of more of the same. That doesn't hurt at all, as this is just another fantastic piece of music.

Cancun Market

Opening with a killer bass, this track goes into more of that wonderful Latin territory, complete with Steel Pan from Junior Gill. This is another winner, as there doesn't seem to be one bum note on the entire disc, just mass instrumental perfection.

Torpedo Flow
This instantly has yet more of that Latin vibe. This time Gill switches to marimba to keep it interesting in that department. Featured horns include sax, trumpet and trombone. The keys are a highlighted feature, as well as guitar as they solo in unison. Talk about amazing, this is one of the five previously unreleased gems on the disc, and they're all equally masterful.
Mirage
There is no letting up, as yet another amazing piece of the mellower variety is presented with effective trumpet and keyboard parts. The cymbal work is amazing as Cobham really holds it altogether himself without hogging the arrangement. There’s blistering feather snare work, although that could be just brushes rather than sticks. Either way, it doesn't cease to amaze for one second of this interesting tune.
Alpha Waves
This is, for me, the finest number here. There’s a drum solo, Latin percussion and steel pan to round out the very interesting and high energy cut. It’s just a fantastically crafted jam. I could describe it, but I have to leave something to the imagination for what I find in the cream of this crop.
Saipuakivikaupias
To close the set we get another of the mid-tempo numbers with arguably the heaviest jazz leanings on offer. It just kicks along very smoothly and fades away. Like it's title oddly enough suggests, this is one of those things you just have to hear to fully understand and appreciate.
 
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