Phosphorous Heads

Lit by Atma Anur

Monthly Archives: July 2013

“WELL PLAYED, SIR!” – A Recent Perspective on an Original Influnce: BILLY COBHAM

Atma Anur At WorkUpon recollection of the events that took place in the small Market Square in the beautiful city of Krakow, Poland, quite recently, I came to another quite fascinating realization; that drummer Billy Cobham has grown, yet again, into another kind of musical inspiration for me.

Billy Cobham began inspiring me as a drummer, and as a musician, in 1974 when I first heard him with The Mahavishnu 

Billy Cobham in Poland, 2013

Orchestra on the Inner Mounting Flame LP (this was released in 1971, the year I began playing). I actually heard the Visions of the Emerald Beyond LP first, even though it was the 3rd or 4th LP released by that very legendary group, led by guitarist John MacLaughlin. My early days of contact with the LPs of The Mahavishnu Orchestra consisted of constant listening, and playing along with the songs. My goal was to learn every note I could, and play the drum parts correctly. A specific point would be that Billy Cobham brought to the forefront of drum set drumming the use of the “Paraddidle Beat” as a staple in what we now know as Fusion. And pioneered the use of paraddidles and their variations, as patterns to create odd meter grooves on the drum set (something that I took to heart).

I also choose to learn how to sing the melodies (mostly Violin and Guitar) and bass lines, as close to what I heard being played as was possible. After some years I even began playing along with The Inner Mounting Flame tracks at 45 rpm… as opposed to the normal 33 1/3 rpm… seemingly unbelievable but true.

Billy CobhamI first saw Billy Cobham live at the Beacon Theater in Manhattan in the mid to late 70s, I don’t remember which band it was with, but I do remember a moment when Billy went to ride his high mounted China Cymbal, and a roadie had to come on stage to hold the cymbal stand for him… it was as if the intensity was simply too much for the poor cymbal stand… or at least that’s what it seemed like to me at the time… awesome!

I do believe that my contact with those records changed and shaped me into the musician that I am today, and I must thank Jonh MacLaughlin, Billy Cobham and Narada Michael Walden for all of that inspiration, both technically and musically, and for their commitment to excellence. Atma Anur - photo credits Izabela Doniec

That recent Saturday night was an unreal surprise for me as I found out, just as they were going on stage, that Billy Cobham was playing not only in Poland, where I now live, but my in own city of Krakow… and only a few meters from where I was standing at the time… this seemed completely impossible to me. I of course ran across the Main Square where there was a folk festival in progress (also with very nice music) and made my way to the small Market Square just in time to see and hear some of the first song… and there was Billy Cobham himself on a wonderful spacious stage with a very nice drum riser, playing his 7 tom, double bass drum set up… genius! I stayed to the side of the stage behind the speakers to see him better… I did not hear the amplified sound of the group at this point.

At a momentary break in the action I moved to the other side of the stage where I was ushered into the back stage area at the foot of the drum riser itself (it’s always nice to be recognized), and discovered that each musician, including Billy, had a double sized music stand with long sheets of music on them… for each song. I found out later that the band had only a short rehearsal for the show earlier that same day.

After a couple of songs of my focusing on Billy’s playing (which was awesome), a song in 7/8 came on, not one that I knew, but a very cool piece. I noticed that the bass player was leading the groove to set up the upcoming melody, and that the four piece band sounded a bit stiff at this point as there was really not much groove or communication happening between them.

The bass line seemed to be written, was quite syncopated and in 7/8. The bass players lack of familiarity with the part was obvious… and then I watched how Billy handled this situation. I have been in similar situations many times as a side-man drummer, where a member of the band has trouble keeping the spirit of the music at hand alive due to his or her desire to be „correct” rather than play music for the music’s sake. In this case I saw and heard an example of truly gracious and mature musicianship.

Billy Cobham gently relaxed the groove while playing some snare hits in the places that made the bass line more understandable. He allowed his playing to swing just enough to show the other players where the spirit of the groove should „be” and kept that going until the bass player slowly realized where he should sit in the time. Billy brought his volume down a touch and generally made even more „space” for the other players.

The point for me was HOW Billy did this, both musically and emotionally. His „vibe” was so peaceful and honest that I could tell that the bass player felt supported, not corrected… this was a wonderful moment for me as a listener and a musician to see in action.

I remember thinking to myself „this is how to play as a Gentleman”, to retain the „vibe” of the group while making the music „right”… what a wise and respectful way this is. As I said, Billy was yet again a wonderful inspiration to me, as he always has been, but in a way that I could not have experienced from listening alone. I had to actually see the interaction between him and his fellow musicians. This was indeed the Gentleman’s approach to letting the music, not the musician, speak loudly.

Atma Anur - photo credits Izabela DoniecI was privileged enough to see this from only a few meters away from Billy’s drum riser, on the floor tom side of his set up that evening, the first time I had seen Billy Cobham live in over 30 years. After the show I had a short moment with this master musician, in which I thanked him for so many years of passion and inspiration, he was kind and communicative… and a true Gentleman.

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Atma Anur’s Friend & Fellow Musician, Will Calhoun, on Breaking Boundaries & Stereotypes in Rock Music

Atma Anur & Will Calhoun From the very beginning,Living Colour broke boundaries and erased stereotypes. If known only for their breakthrough single, “Cult of Personality,” Living Colour’s place in rock ‘n’ roll history would be secure, but the band’s career is much deeper than that.  From a tour stop in Raleigh, North Carolina, and in anticipation of Saturday night’s show at the Kessler Theater, drummer Will Calhoun talked with DC9 about the band’s 25-year anniversary.

This is the 25th anniversary of the band. How has the music business changed since you first got together?

It has changed a lot. We don’t have CD shops. We used to go out and look at albums, at sleeves. Now, you download songs for 99 cents. You can download songs for free. It can be a nightmare with all this technology. Luckily, with Living Colour, we have a very unique live show. It can be improvised in order to create a unique vibe. Music is very immediate now. You can record a show and then get back to your hotel room and the whole show is edited and up online. The people make comments and they judge you. Technology has made it easier to get information out to people and for an artist that is a beautiful thing.

Why do you think vinyl is making a comeback?

It’s the same reason why people might want to drive a standard car over an automatic. Technology doesn’t change the nation. It’s a new way to do things, but not everybody chooses to cross the street. Some people don’t like cell phones or laptops. There are people who don’t use computers and still have answering machine. I have to say that we physiologically are pretty germane to the sound of vinyl. We both give off very similar vibrations. People react to the sound of vinyl. It’s a whole different sound. It’s a combination of things. My generation really enjoyed vinyl, purchasing it, taking a look at the covers. I am from the Bronx and from the whole generation of scratching. When I see people now scratching on a laptop, I know that is not the same art. I think there is an academic response to the vinyl and how it sounds.

You went to the Berklee College of Music. Is it better to be a trained musician or come at it organically like punk bands do?

My way is to be as skilled as possible. I love classical music. I love jazz. I like to read music. Punk was about feeling. They made a commotion. The music is created out of how you feel. To me, there is nothing wrong with that. It comes down to how you want to express yourself. I feel like you do whatever is best to do your job. I think a punk could be just as good of a musician as someone who is trained. Expression is the important thing.

You have played with an amazing array of artists. What was your impression of B.B. King?

I was honored to be in that session. B.B. is a genius. He was always very respectful. I was trying to make everything fit and B.B. said, “Young man, when I turn around and tell you it’s not happening, then it’s not happening.” It was an amazing session and B.B. took it really easy with me.

What about Herb Albert?

Herb was fantastic. He allowed me to produce and write songs for him. I learned many things from Herb. He has a very interesting background. Herb really surprised me with all the techniques that he could play. There are a million things I learned from him. It was an absolute education to be around him.

What about Public Enemy?

That’s one of my favorite bands in the world. They were friends of ours. I loved their music and their message. The production and sampling were amazing. They did some amazing things with sounds and samples. They are like the John Coltrane of rap to me.

There aren’t a lot of African American rock bands. Do you think the rock industry suffers from an inherent racism?

Yes, it’s because of the musicians and it’s because of the market. Not enough folks are aware of the history of music, unaware of the influence of the blues. It’s a simple yes. There are plenty of black musicians out there who play rock music. We’ve met them over the years. The marketing and signing and presentation of it are still segregated in a lot of ways. A band like the Bad Brains should be larger than they are. There are people still writing about the Bad Brains. It was shocking for me, going on the road in America in 1988 and meeting all these black kids who gave us tapes and CDs of their music. It’s been 20 years and we’ve been to France and Germany and there are still people who can’t accept the fact that black musicians play rock ‘n’ roll. It is a fact. Look it up. There are two sides to that, though. Some African Americans had a hard time identifying with rock ‘n’ roll. I had a conversation with B.B. King about that.

Living Colour’s big break was going on tour with the Rolling Stones and Guns ‘N Roses in 1990. Did you have interactions with Jagger and Axl Rose?

The crowds were amazing and the Stones were complete gentlemen. You’ve probably heard and most folks know about the interactions with Axl. Personally, it was very colorful, but the rest of the band was cool. Axl has come out and apologized about how he was at that time. Charlie Watts still calls me and I’ve played on a couple of tracks with him. I’ve played on Ronnie Wood’s solo album.

It’s been several years since a new Living Colour album came out. Are you working on a new effort?

Right as we speak, we are five or six songs into a new album. The stuff is coming out great. I think something is going to come out next year, hopefully by Christmas time. We have a very busy schedule at the moment. But I think the new album is going to sound awesome.

Vernon Reid was listed as No. 66 on Rolling Stone magazine’s top guitarist of all time. Should he have been higher?

Yes, I think he deserves higher. If you are asking me straight up, I would have to say yes. But 66 is a nice number. People recognize Vernon as a very unique player who came from a harmolodic school of playing. He has remarkable abilities. He does deserve higher, but it’s nice to recognized at any number.

Are there rock drummers you admire?

John Bonham. Buddy Miles was one of my favorites. Charlie Watts certainly. Terry Bozzio is also amazing.

“MAD 4 IT” ALBUM REVIEW (Luca Zamberlin feat. Atma Anur)

The "Mad 4 It" Crew Luca Zamberlin, who has lived in the UK for years and has just recently come back to Italy, is proud of cooperating with several notorious names on the music scene – you just need to think about his militant contribution to  Driveshift alongside Cozy Powell, Neil Murray, John Sinclair. The list would be too long, so I invite you to have a look at the artistic career of the artist.

Mad for It "MAD FOR IT" CD cover is an entirely instrumental album, which hosts as special guest the great American (even though of English origin) drummer Atma Anur, known for his previous experiences with Jason Becker, Tony MacAlpine, Cacophony, Greg Howe, Richie Kotzen and many, many others. On bass it features the renown instrumentalist Piero Trevisan, whose background includes excellent collaborations, such as the one with Steve Saluto, who is also present on this album as a guest.

There is no doubt in my mind that they should be awarded for the very high level of production on this CD. Kudos to Carlo Zundo, another well known guitarist in the Venetian area who was involved in the production process. His contribution to the mastering of the CD is absolutely in line throughout the album, as his approach is fresh and free from the standardization of sounds that nowadays makes albums pretty much similar to one another. You can hear everything just fine: the guitars, track by track, the bass lines, and the drum sounds are absolutely natural! I don’t think one may expect anything less from excellent production.

Two songs have to be mentioned, “Cup of Tea or Cup of Coffee” and “Big country”, which have been written by Luca especially for the great Londoner guitarist of Welsh origin Shaun Baxter. Luca has attended his metal guitar masterclasses at the Guitar Institute of Acton (London) from 1989 to 1991, and has privately studied with him, a chance which is reserved to very few, between 1993 and 2000.

My general view on their work on this album is that it is an exquisitely technical record. I do not use the term “exquisitely” by chance, as here the listeners can find a particular music taste and a groove which are rarely found on instrumental albums. Zamberlin switches naturally from rock blues sounds – winking at the best Mr Big’s ones- to the more neo-classical, Malmsteen-style sound, and further still to acoustic ballads, exquisitely reminding one of a Led Zeppelin touch (particularly the “White Summer” cover that closes the record).

Atma Anur Atma Anur on drums is simply superb: a drummer who really has the groove in his veins. Right from the first listening, which is usually easy, he has a simple but not in the least trivial style, which makes us discover a kind of noble technicity that was somehow not entirely spotted at first, and that seems to deepen with every new listening. After analyzing the record you realize that the “simplicity” that was transmitted from the first listening was given exclusively by his incredible ability to perform highly technical things without making them invasive throughout the track. This is what people call “class” and this is not just any drummer’s mark.

The bass is precise and punctual in every song, going away from the usual contemporary anonymity of the last years’ productions. This hits the spot, as it is definitely the perfect glue for Zamberlin and Atma Anur’s project. It often happens that, while listening to a particularly pleasant passage in a song, you realize that it is precisely the bass that makes the difference.

And now a closer look at the songs. The record opens with “Hacipaci Boogie”,   a song that immediately catches you, and carries you away with its groove that you just can’t resist. The sounds coming together in the melody are fresh and modern, and this makes the song an absolutely delightful listening. It is followed by the more rocky and bluesy Mad 4 It. You can’t help stamping your foot to the rhythm as you enjoy the waterfall shades of Luca’s exquisite solo bearing witness to his technical and compositional prowess.

When “Cup of Tea or Cup of Coffee” strikes, it sticks into your mind immediately, thanks to the main riff, very pleasant and catchy, spaced out by some killer licks perfectly intersecting within the track, giving it sometimes a harder line, without taking you away from the melody which captures you from the first listen. “Spaced Out” is the fourth song, which definitely stands out among the others. It has an

absolutely enthralling solo part on a very ethereal base, which allows the listener to enjoy the imaginative side of Luca’s creativity.

“C.T.P.” takes us back, placing our feet firm on the ground.

This is a rocky song, a tribute to Malmsteen’s neoclassicism, which will be appreciated by lovers of a more metal virtuosity, made even more precious by the optimal cellist JurJ Luisetto. Speed, technique and virtuosity are the key words here. With one song Luca Zamberlin wipes out any doubt on his skills. And this is only one “episode” in a whole series within the album, an episode which for sure hits the nail on the head.

With “Binge Blues” the listener is taken back to a groove similar to the ones opening the album, even if, this time, a few shades closer to metal as a genre. I can’t help thinking about some of the best songs by Mr Big, even though there is a characteristic mark throughout the entire Mad 4 It album: the skill in making different sounds combine together perfectly.

Some of the best songs on the album, with the amazing Atma Anur behind the drums, of course, are the three ballads closing the album.  “Here and Now”, where, once again, Luca is accompanied by JurJ Luisetto’s cello, gives us a pleasant and moving song as a present. It is a reflective song that relaxes the listener’s mind and brings him or her into the right mood to go on with the listening of the last pieces. One notices a changing of gears towards the end of the album, which says goodbye to the more rocky side to take one to a little more reflective path paving the way to “Big Country”. Now is when one can lit a cigarette and sip a drink, thinking about all the songs previously listened to. “White Summer” is a short Led Zeppelin tribute: only 1 minute and 30 seconds long, but with a closing theme that rounds off the album.

So far, thinking back to the sequence of songs in the album the listener realizes that nothing has been left to chance. Mad 4 It is an album of great depth, melodic and complete. Neither too long for the listeners to get bored (the serious risk of exclusively instrumental works) nor too short for them to feel disappointed. With Mad for it, Luca Zamberlin re-introduces himself on the stage in great style. I recommend this album to all good music lovers, great aspiring guitarists still in school, as well as to any other interested listeners.

 

Reviewed by Alex Torchia

Translated from Italian by Marika Borella

Edited for the PHOSPHOROUS HEADS by Alina Alens

Album available on iTunes & Amazon.