Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
[Welcome to Thirty Year Thursday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1986]
Artist: BILLY COBHAM
Album: POWER PLAY
I first discovered the monstrous drumming of Billy Cobham during high school via his early-‘70s work with John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra. I previously discussed their debut album The Inner Mounting Flame in my Great Out Of The Gate series, and I highly recommend that record and its follow-up, Birds Of Fire, to hear why Cobham is considered one of the greatest drummers of all time. Following the dissolution of that group in 1973, Cobham began a solo career that included several #1 and Top 10 jazz albums that also impacted the Pop and R&B charts. I didn’t hear those records until several years later, so my introduction to his solo career was his 1985 GRP Records debut, Warning. That album, with the back-cover warning about how its digitally recorded music could damage your speakers if played too loud, was a touchstone release for me and it’s still a record I know by heart from start to finish. The synth- and keyboard-heavy production will likely scare away a lot of jazz purists, but the songs & musicianship are impressive and overcome any technological date-stamping.
A year later he released Power Play with most of the musicians from the previous album (bassist Baron Browne, guitarist Dean Brown, keyboardist Gerry Etkins and percussionist Sa Davis). Although it’s not in the same league as Warning and it contains fewer jaw-dropping drum explosions, as well as two mediocre tracks anchored by electronic drums, it’s a solid follow-up with several excellent songs. Opening track “Times Of Our Lives” has a funky groove and a couple of memorable synth melodies. The propulsive “Radioactive” is a great driving song that features some typically impressive drumming, and the 6-part, 14-minute “Summit Afrique” suite takes us on a memorable musical journey with a couple of percussive showcases (most notably “The Debate” and “The Conflict”). I won’t claim that Power Play is a classic or a must-have, but I enjoyed it in 1986 and much of it still sounds really good, in spite of being an obvious product of its time. If you check out & enjoy Warning there’s a lot to like here as well.