September 2007

After 15 Years, Genesis Returns

My first concert featuring the revolutionary prog-rock group Genesis, was at London's Earl's Court in 1977, during the Queen's Silver Jubilee. Sadly, I saw them shortly after the departure of Peter Gabriel, but before guitarist Steve Hackett had left the group. By 1978, two of Genesis' greatest musicians were now gone, and many predicted their swift demise, however drummer Phil Collins would emerge from behind his kit to take the microphone, (replaced first by Bill Bruford and later Chester Thompson on drums), and alongside keyboardist Tony Banks and bassist Mike Rutherford, would propel Genesis to an unbelievably successful career. Now, some fifteen years after their last "farewell tour", Genesis returns to the Bay Area, (San Jose October 9th and Sacramento on October 10th), for the final leg of their "Turn It On Again" tour; rejoined by Thompson and guitarist Darryl Stuermer. "You've got to get in to get out..."

The USA Today's Mike Snider, recently wrote that although the group was "never a favorite with critics, Genesis built a solid fan base over nearly four decades. Now the band is ready for its victory lap. After the North American leg of the group's reunion tour opened in Toronto, Tony Banks, Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford will play what they say will be Genesis' final U.S. concerts. Then, as their hit goes, that's all. "Basically, this is the last time we are doing it," Collins says. That the band decided to turn it on again at all is a surprise. The three hadn't released a new album since 1991's We Can't Dance. Collins, 56, officially left Genesis in 1996, and the group last toured in 1992.

After his solo "first final farewell tour" in 2005, "I wanted to sort of retire from touring to be with my kids," Collins says. "If something special came up, I would do it. I just don't want to go on the road for long periods of time." But the group kept in touch over the years, playing impromptu gigs at birthday parties (when Collins turned 50) and weddings (for Collins and original singer Peter Gabriel).

After two Genesis Archive box sets hit stores in 1998 and 2000, rumors of a reunion emerged. In 2004, the three met with ex-bandmates Gabriel and Hackett to discuss a live reunion to play 1974's concept album, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. "It would have been quite fun to do on a smaller scale," says Banks, 57. Gabriel was non-committal, so Collins asked Banks and Rutherford whether they wanted to get the three-man band back together. "We couldn't think of a reason why not to, really," Collins says.

Only three of 22 U.S. shows have sold out, but multiple dates in Chicago, Philadelphia and L.A. are a testament to the band's following. ("Many places said we could do two or three nights," Collins says. "But if you do, pretty soon you have 50 shows. I kept putting a lid on it.") Genesis' return probably won't prove as hot a ticket as The Police reunion, says Pollstar editor Gary Bongiovanni. "The Police have been away longer, and Genesis with Phil Collins still doesn't have Peter Gabriel. So it is a question mark," he says. "But in Europe, they did good business and were playing stadiums."

After the tour ends in October, Collins has nothing in the works. "I'm really looking forward to it," he says. "I've been playing golf."Genesis, on the other hand, has many projects in the pipeline. Rhino released a new two-disc hits compilation Turn It On Again (Tour Edition), and in November, the second box set of remastered Genesis albums arrives. The band's free concert in Rome's Circus Maximus was recorded for a DVD due later this year. The autobiography Genesis: Chapter & Verse was due out Sept. 18.

With this farewell tour and upcoming retrospectives, might the band emerge with an enhanced image? "Certainly, in England, the band gets overlooked," Banks says. "But, honestly, I'm not that concerned anymore. I'm pretty proud." Collins took the range of ages at the European shows as a promising sign. "We've had great reviews in Europe and the U.K. Maybe suddenly the (U.S.) critics could lower their agendas and just go there and say, 'This isn't bad.' "

I'm personally fond of the Gabriel era albums, Trespass, Nursery Cryme, Selling England by the Pound, and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, however Collins, and the much under-appreciated Banks and Rutherford were phenomenal on most of 1980's albums: The Wind & Wuthering, And Then There Were Three, Duke and Abacab. With the addition of the great jazz drummer Thompson, (Freddie Hubbard, Frank Zappa, and Weather Report), and Stuermer, (Jean Luc Ponty), Genesis' live shows were some one the greatest I'd ever seen, and alongside their peers; Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd, remained one of the greatest prog-rock bands of all time.

"I know what I like. and I like what I know..."

Billy Cobham's "Live at 60"

Growing up in Washington, D.C., I first saw Billy Cobham with guitar virtuoso John McLaughlin and his ground breaking Mahavishnu Orchestra at American University in 1972. After that unbelievable show, Cobham soon became my favorite drummer... He still is. Considered by many to be one of the greatest drummers of all time, Billy Cobham's prolific career has spanned several decades; from his earliest works with pianist Horace Silver and trumpeter Miles Davis; the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Ron Carter, Randy and Michael Brecker, John Scofield, George Duke, Dexter Gordon and Stan Getz; his work with the Grateful Dead's Bob Weir and the Dead-inspired "Jazz is Dead"; and last but not least, his many and varied ensembles, from his steel drum-flavored Culture Mix, to his most recent, latin inspired group, Asere.

Cobham's incredible rudimentary skills were second to none; I'd personally seen him over thirty times, and his massive frame and joyous playing will leave anyone who sees him gasping in amazement. Those skills have not diminished one bit, as evidenced in a new DVD, "Billy Cobham: Live at 60". Joining Cobham for yet another concert in Paris, is his Culture Mix group, featuring the great "Junior" Gill on steel drums. With footage and interviews, this DVD is a remarkable window into the life of perhaps the best drummer of ours, or any generation.

Only a few times in history has a musician been singled out as the world-class master of his instrument. Cobham is one of those few artists. For over 30 years, he has received international acclaim as the total consummate percussionist. The legendary Cobham, with his matchless, dazzling, ambidextrous skills as a drummer, has applied the same insistent fervor to his long list of monumental achievements. He’s an accomplished composer and record producer. It is a rarely known fact that he was at the forefront of the electronic music industry and it’s development through Jazz.

He was one of the first percussionists, along with Max Roach and Tony Williams to utilize the Electronic Drum Controller made in 1968 by the Meazzi Drum Company in Milano, Italy while on concert tour with Horace Silver in Europe. He is one of the few Percussionists, specializing in the Jazz drum set to lead his own band. The award winning Cobham has custom designed trend setting acoustic and electronic drum sets and has endorsed products that he created and refined.

Cobham has performed on hundreds of records with his own groups and with some of the music’s most luminary artists, and his trademark - biggest, fastest, explosive drumming - has energized the international stages of concerts, symphonies, big bands, Broadway, festivals, television and video. He has been a teacher of his artistry, giving drum clinics, conducting workshops and symposiums throughout the world. His stylistic influence, which has literally created a category of music, is an outstanding part of the history of modern music.

Since 1980, Cobham has been dividing his time between his home in Zurich and the United States where he lived in New York City and northern California until that time, underscoring his unique internationally influenced origins as a musician. Cobham was born on May 16th, 1944 in Panama, surrounded by talented parents and a brother, Wayne (producer, horn player, MIDI specialist, writer), Cobham’s love for drums was kindled by his cousins who played and constructed steel drums and congas in Panama. Some of his earliest memories are of himself playing timbales.

The Cobhams moved to New York City in 1947, when Billy was 3 years old. He had his stage debut in performance with his father at the age of 8. Cobham developed his seriously voracious appetite for drumming in the highly competitive Drum and Bugle Corps. arena with St. Catherine’s Queensmen, prompting him to attend New York’s famed High School of Music and Art to study music theory and drum technique with seminars by such renowned talents as Thelonious Monk and Stan Getz. Cobham remembers "In those days, Jazz was a bit off-limits to students while classical music was preferred by the education establishment. So, of course students craved to meet jazz artists.

Miles Davis was the most talked about personality of the time and had the best musicians working with him Cobham recalled; "We’d listen to him and analyze, as we did with other professionals. But in those days, all roads did lead to Miles." "He was the goal to shoot for because he had a knack for putting the right components together (musicians and music) to convey the ultimate message through Jazz."

Cobham’s most notable offerings to fusion jazz are his own 35 recordings beginning with "Spectrum", which was released on Atlantic Records in 1973 and reissued on compact disc by Rhino Entertainment in 2001. Amid the re-release of Spectrum, Cobham has several projects in the works including "Drum + Voice" (due via Sony), and a range of educational tools he produces through his own company, Creative Multi-Media Concepts. Among the resources is the book "Conundrum", which is published by Warner Publishing, and a slew of Music Minus One interactive CDs which feature selections from Spectrum and other projects of Cobham's.

Billy Cobham: Live at 60 is a unique moment in time, staged in Paris, France to celebrate the 60th birthday. Surrounded by his band, Culture Mix, Billy takes the viewer through a 75 minute musical experience featuring "Red Baron," "Dessicated Coconuts," "Cuba on the Horizon," and many others. While displaying the virtuosic drumming that Cobham is known for, this DVD puts the viewer right next to Cobham, to share his music, his humor, and his culture as if seated behind the drums along with him. Other featured musicians include percussionist Wilber "Junior" Gill, Marcus Ubeda on the keyboard, guitarist Per Gade, and Stefan Rademacher on bass.