Review: Billy Cobham at Jazz Cafe

Jazz legend Billy Cobham returned to Camden for first show since 2017

Wednesday, 6th October 2021 — By Harry Taylor

Billy Cobham Stanley Jordan Christian Galvez

Billy Cobham [Paolo Terlizzi]

IN Miles Davis’ 1969 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, he said he preferred the term “social music” to jazz.

And the packed house at the Jazz Cafe on Thursday night for drummer Billy Cobham’s return to the venue was a perfect tribute to his former bandmate’s phrase, a crowded downstairs for an almost-sold out event that made it feel like the pandemic was long forgotten.

Cobham, best known for his work in the Mahavishnu Orchestra and appearing on Davis’ 1970 album Bitches Brew, was joined by Steve Hamilton and Nikki Yeoh playing keyboards, with David Dunsmuir on guitar and Michael Mondesir on the bass.

“I’m honoured to be back here playing again. Each time I come back it’s like coming home,” the 77-year-old Panamanian told the audience in a brief interlude, before urging them to support live music and venues.

For novices, fusion jazz can sound like the backing track from Ceefax or as one audience member observed “like the music from Mario”.

Yet for those aware of Cobham’s pedigree, the four-piece provided a journey through his back catalogue during his hour-long set, including Panama, Red and Yellow Cabriolet and Tierra Del Fuego from his release last year. 

Cobham’s drum solo during Stratus (as sampled by Massive Attack)demonstrated the depth of his mastery, with care and elegance slowly building into a crescendo on an instrument usually content with keeping time rather than grandstanding at the forefront of any jazz track. Meanwhile Mondesir, complete with his fedora, punched through the air with his bluesy opening to Crosswind.

Cobham’s a semi-regular visitor to the Jazz Cafe, last appearing in 2017, before the pandemic. Based on his two nights there being almost sold out (none were available for the gig the following night on October 1), he’ll be back again, and well worth seeing.

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