Billy Cobham – Concert Review – Austin, TX – October 13, 2010
Sometime in the mid-80s, I think, a friend of mine turned me on to some jazz stuff and the one band that stuck with me was Mahavishnu Orchestra. Their album Birds of Fire remains the greatest jazz/fusion album I have ever heard. Part of the reason, a big part really, was because of the drummer, Billy Cobham. He was a very musical drummer and I loved his work on his first solo album, Spectrum and the Miles Davis albums Bitches Brew and Live-Evil. He’s just a man-beast of a drummer in his chops, but he plays such a light fluid style.
That Mahavishnu album is very special to me. When I was still drumming (84-2000), I used to practice along with Birds of Fire quite often. No, I wasn’t able to play a lot of the stuff he was doing on there, but I tried my damnedest to play along and keep up. It was good practice.
When I saw that he was playing at the One World Theatre here in Austin, I had to go. I was able to score second row seats on the center aisle. Doug Morrison came along. I’d never been to this place but Doug mentioned several times how small and awesome it is. He was right. You almost feel like you’re in your own house watching a band with perfect acoustics. The place is pretty awesome. The sound was great.
Billy’s band consists of all foreigners, including Billy. I never knew he was Panamanian. The whole band was just great and one would expect no less. But then there’s Billy. I’ve never seen such a big drummer with such a soft style. He proved all night that power drumming has absolutely nothing to do with how hard one hits. He was so fluid and solid. He did hit harder for accent in spots, but it wasn’t his main thing. It was quite awesome to watch how he was conducting things from behind the kit. Normally he’d play with his eyes closed, but when they were opened, it was usually to give someone a cue as to what was coming next. In one spot he looked over to the bassist and guitar player and just said, “four” and they just nodded and smiled. Some of the stuff they played really had that early 70s Mahavishnu feel to it.
He is so musical of a drummer and it really took me back to my playing days. It made me miss it badly. Not that I was even remotely a jazz/fusion style drummer, but I did try to be a little musical about it instead of just keeping the beat. Both Doug and I sat there in awe. For 64 years old, he is still incredibly awesome.
After the show Billy was doing an autograph signing and I didn’t bring anything as I didn’t expect him to come out and hang out. I did have him sign my ticket and he was gracious enough to do a photo with me. They didn’t allow cameras during the show so I have no photos of the band. Pity. But I do have the awesome shot below!
If this tour comes anywhere near you and you even remotely like jazz/fusion, you will not be disappointed. Just go! I’m even more excited about seeing John McLaughlin, Colin Hay and Al Dimeola there in the coming months.