Sunday, April 1, 2018

Billy Cobham and his fiery quintet cap a two-night stand at the Jazz Kitchen

His patented whirlwind style, with precise accents and crisp patterns on the monstrous kit he favors,
Billy Cobham displayed the intensity and exactitude he's famous for.
yields little to age, it seems. Billy Cobham, a force in jazz-rock fusion of the 1970s, will turn 74 next month.

The last of four sets at the Jazz Kitchen Saturday night showed him to be in fighting trim, buoyed by an ensemble of relative youngsters, of whom guitarist Fareed Haque is probably the best-known here.

Ranging across a spectrum (pun unavoidable) of his repertoire from the past four decades, the master drummer was as focused on the encore "Red Baron" as he had been on "Matador" and "On the Move" an hour-and-a-half earlier.

That hard-grooving encore provided the most extensive display of each sideman's solo chops. The astuteness of each of them was evident throughout the set, but bassist Tim Landers came through with a particular well-rounded, rhythmically intricate solo.

Paul Hanson, who was heard mostly on the seductive amplified bassoon (soprano saxophone is his other instrument), played a vigorous solo that had been foreshadowed by his robust lyricism on "Heather," a dependable showcase for whatever reedman Cobham has on the bandstand. That ballad from "Crosswinds," a signature Cobham achievement from long ago, opened with atmospheric wooziness from Scott Tibbs' electronic keyboards and later featured his expansive solo.

Guitarist Fareed Haque is known hereabouts for his stellar work with Garaj Mahal and the Indianapolis-based duumvirate Rob Dixon and the late Mel Rhyne (the Dixon-Rhyne Project). He is focused on guitar sound, with respect paid to the acoustic end of the spectrum, and his rhythmic aplomb matches Cobham's. No matter how strenuously  he unleashed his most vigorous playing Saturday night, he remained happily free of the Grimacing Guitarist affliction.

It remains to celebrate the group's leader and senior citizen. Cobham uses the vastness of his kit as a percussion orchestra. He is capable of overwhelming a room with a barrage, but his fourth set in the Jazz Kitchen engagement kept making clear how well he directs his wit and energy. A cymbal stroke will highlight an ensemble accent, and the play of cymbals in the drum set's upper register is anchored in the chthonic energy of two expertly managed bass drums. Toms and snares kept up a constant dialogue in the middle.

As his longest solo of the night evinced, he can set rhythmic patterns at cross purposes with each other, yet somehow bring them together at length to give a unified impression. He always seemed mindful that detonation alone is far from the deepest impression jazz drumming should leave. There should always be something held in reserve, and some articulate interior messages free to hold sway from time to time against the monster moments.

[Photo by Mark Sheldon]