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As part of his year-long 75th birthday celebration, super-drummer Billy Cobham rolled into New York’s Blue Note for a week-long residency back in September in the midst of a barnstorming tour with his Crosswinds Project that took the fusion juggernaut all over the U.S. “It’s been an adventure, these 75 years that I have been blessed to experience so much in my life,” Cobham said backstage before a Friday night gig, reflecting on his tenures with Horace Silver, Miles Davis, Gil Evans, the Mahavishnu Orchestra and as a ubiquitous CTI session drummer during the ‘70s. “But I’m really excited about this music that we are making together right now with this band. This Crosswinds Project is in line with my revisiting of albums that started in 2013 with the Spectrum 40 band, performing the music of my first album (1973’s Spectrum), and will continue in the near future by revisiting my third recording, Total Eclipse. This is a whole other thing than the Spectrum 40 Band. Not greater, just different.”
Cobham’s look back at Crosswinds is spurred on from night to night by a potent group of master musicians and improvisers in electric bassist Tim Landers (a member of the drummer’s Glass Menagerie band from the early ‘80s), guitarist Fareed Haque (of Garaj Mahal and Zawinul Syndicate fame), Egyptian-born keyboard virtuoso Oz Ezzeldin, phenomenal electric bassoonist Paul Hanson and special guest trumpeter, Randy Brecker, who, along his late brother, tenor sax titan Michael Brecker, played on Cobham’s original 1974 recording of Crosswinds. But Cobham’s current take on the complicated and highly challenging music he wrote for that fusion classic is a whole lot different today than it was 45 years ago.
“I’ve rearranged most of my charts to reflect who I am today,” said the Panamanian-born drummer whose family emigrated to Harlem when he was three years old. “The first time you write a piece of music, it’s a first impression. But it takes time to go through some experiences in life in order to add information to what’s already there. The whole idea is to not only revisit the music that I created in 1974 for the Crosswinds album but also bring some new impressions of that music with this new band. I write all of my material with the idea that I’ll revisit it at some point, if I have the opportunity. I’m always looking back and wondering, ‘I wonder what will happen if I do this.’”
While showcasing scintillating improvisations and fiery exchanges from the world-class soloists in the group, Cobham’s Blue Note set and recent Crosswinds Project CD release, Time Lapse Photos (Creative MultiMedia Concepts), revealed some new harmonic twists, intricate counter melodies and further extrapolations on familiar tunes like the Latin-tinged “Spanish Moss,” the mellow “Savannah The Serene,” and the slamming the funk-fusion classics “The Pleasant Pheasant” and “Crosswinds.” (The album also features brand new Cobham compositions, ”Under the Baobab Tree” and “Time Lapsed Photos” as well as reimagining of “Taurian Matador” and “In Search of Snoopy/Red Baron” from Spectrum).
“These new takes will resemble what I did in the ‘70s, but we morphed things after 40 plus years,” said Cobham, whose patented pocket grooves have been sampled 144 times by various hip-hop artists, including Lil Wayne, Eric B & Rakim, Cypress Hill, Gang Starr and Massive Attack. “You can’t just stay in the same place after all that time, so we need to move on. In this particular way, it’s fresh. Not new but fresh, and that’s the way it should be.”
Cobham is now gearing up for a week-long engagement with his Crosswinds Project at the Blue Note in Bejing, China in April, 2020. And while Hanson has added a special dimension to the group with his electric bassoon, plugging the unwieldy instrument associated with classical music into harmonizer, distortion and otherworldly synth effects, and Haque has consistently awed guitar aficionados with his fleet-fingered abandon and array of tones, the presence of Randy Brecker in the band has been special to Cobham.
[caption id="attachment_21352" align="alignleft" width="1024"] The presence of Randy Brecker (pictured) in the band has been special to Cobham. (Photo: Courtesy the artist)[/caption]
They first played together in 1968 in Horace Silver’s Quintet and the following year formed the seminal jazz-rock band Dreams, recording two innovative albums for Columbia Records (1970’s Dreams and 1972’s Imagine My Surprise) before Cobham left to join the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Both septuagenarians (Brecker just turned 74 on November 27) are still playing at the top of their respective games in this Crosswinds Project.
“We had a really good time on this Stateside tour,” said the drummer-composer, who exudes remarkable authority while executing impossibly precise fills on his five rack-mounted toms, one floor tom, two snares and signature double bass drums. “ We’ve developed a strong musical rapport and we’re making a really special statement. And we’re hoping to carry on the momentum all the way to China.” Stay tuned.
Feature photo courtesy Folletts.