CULTURE

Legendary jazz man drops by

Billy Cobham, a legendary drummer and composer who played a major part in shaping the sound of jazz-rock, will perform one show in Athens this week, at the Rodon Club (24 Marni St) on Saturday. Despite his legendary status, the American musician, who last visited the country for a performance at the Womad festival in 2002, is not a household name, a development that can be attributed to his specialized musical activity. Even so, Cobham ranks as a major and established name in the history of jazz music, and is integrally linked with the style as a leading fusionist. Though the term «fusion» refers to all music that results from the blend of two or more existing styles, the term is primarily used to describe the dynamic and loudly played mix of jazz and rock, a movement that emerged in the late 1960s. At the time, some musicians strove to stretch the limits of jazz and rock which is exactly what Cobham accomplished, and very well indeed. The late Miles Davis’s «Bitches Brew» album, released in 1969, and on which Cobham played drums, is widely considered to be jazz-rock’s first-ever album. The project helped introduce jazz to audiences which, until then, were focused entirely on rock music. «Bitches Brew» was an exceptionally pioneering project for its time. The drummer has also played on several other landmark albums, including «Live Evil» and «Jack Johnson,» both by Davis, as well as projects for which Cobham collaborated with the guitarist George Benson. Cobham’s name, however, was mostly associated with guitarist John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra. Cobham and McLaughlin, along with the keyboardist Jan Hammer, bassist Rick Laird, and the violinist Jerry Goodman, formed the orchestra’s starting lineup in 1970. Compared to other fusion acts, their musical approach was more rock-oriented, yet at the same time, it was also heavily influenced by Eastern mysticism, a widespread phenomenon in popular culture at the time. Cobham spent three very creative years working with the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Two albums released during this period, 1971’s «The Inner Mounting Flame» and 1972’s «Birds of Fire,» are widely regarded as classics. Soon after, in 1973, Goodman, Hammer, and Cobham all departed to form their own groups. Cobham’s «Spectrum» album, which made a tremendous impact on other drummers during the 1970s, probably ranks as his most important solo effort. During the 1980s, the drummer focused most of his activities on teaching, recording and advertising. In more recent years, however, Cobham has returned to performing. On this visit to Athens, as part of a European tour, Cobham will present his most recent musical endeavors for which he has fused jazz with Latin elements. He will be joined by Per Gade on guitar, Stefan Rademacher on bass, Marcos Ubeda on keyboards, and Jr Gill on percussion. Admirers of this major artist will no doubt be out in force at the Rodon Club on Saturday. For newcomers to the man’s work, Cobham’s visit is an opportunity to become acquainted with a versatile artist able to work various styles with ease.