Want the fountain of youth? Ask Billy Cobham.
Like fellow drummer Roy Haynes (even older, nearing 90) 70-year-old Billy Cobham plays up a storm. On Saturday at The Egg’s smaller Swyer Theatre, Cobham revisited his 40-year old “Spectrum” album with a trio well-matched to his power and precision.
By the time Cobham recorded “Spectrum” to launch a prolific solo career, he’d already co-invented fusion with Miles Davis and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. But “Spectrum” introduced Cobham as composer.
While he showcased “Spectrum” tunes on Saturday, he also spotlighted songs by bandmembers Gary Husband (keys) and Dean Brown (guitar). But it was his show all the way, and not just when he soloed with two sticks in each hand late in his 90-minute set, intro’ed tunes or crafted segues between songs from one beat to another.
He launched “Sphere of Influence” with a roar that subsided (some) into riff waves that peaked with Brown’s hyperactive (physically and musically) arpeggio blasts before sauntering back to the head. “Radioactive,” a breezy, complex-time tune, featured Husband using busy electronics to reshape notes and tones before Brown took his restless shot at the melody and Cobham grabbed and ran with it, then summoned everybody back to the tune’s original stutter-step launching pad.
Cobham held the spotlight to introduce the slower, sweeter “Heather,” a lovely, relatively sparse ballad whose plainspoken lyricism felt like a cold one after the hard work of listening through the two earlier riff-storms, or like a Japanese ink-painting of a classic landscape after car chases through big cities. However, Cobham couldn’t resist going up-tempo. As the band soothed, adagio, he played allegro, then presto, but let us down easy at the end.
“Stratus” went faster, high-octane funk spiced by Husband at his electro-noisiest and Brown even noisier, but again, Cobham took over by going double-time at the recap. Brown then led in his own “Two Numbers,” playing face to face with Husband while Cobham pushed hard, taking over the vamp at the end before tossing things back to Husband and Brown.
Some props here to bassist Ric Fierobracci who got little solo time but had the band’s back all the way. He linked with Cobham’s (double, big) kick-drum thuds, lending tone to the pulse, roamed with imagination and drive in his short spotlighted breaks and gave as good as he got. He really percolated in Husband’s funk tune “What Would Happen If Animals Had Guns, Too?” as if prepping to blast off in “Quadrant Four.” Nobody backed off, but he muscled to the front, helping light up the run of “Spectrum” tunes — “Quadrant Four,” “Spectrum,” then “Quadrant” echoing in the groove again” — that climaxed the set before a blistering encore of “Red Baron,” also from “Spectrum.”
Sheer power and precision made these 40-year-old tunes sound fresh — Cobham at maximum muscle sounding as if he wielded four-by-fours, Brown echoing Larry Coryell or John McLaughlin, Husband checklisting every fusion keyboard trick and Fierabracci teaming up tight with everybody.