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Billy Cobham And Culturemix at the
Jazz Iridium in New York

by C. Phillips


   Why Billy Cobham's Culturemix has been part of the New York Iridium Jazz Club's tenth-anniversary celebration is clear.  Like Iridium, Cobham continues to blaze an awesome musical trail that ranges from jazz to funk to R&B to rock and anything else that you can move to.  With two previous appearances at the club, it was like another "coming home" session to claim his crown once again. The diversity of the Culturemix combination is analogous to Iridium's own changing and staying in step with the times.

   From the first insistent thumps of Cobham's drums, the audience was hooked as they leaned into what would be one hour of mesmerizing performances from each member of Culturemix. They were enthused from the first selection and lapped up every single note of Cobham's crew. The packed house at the Iridium erupted in applause as the first selection came to a close.

The initial crew on stage comprised solely Culturemix, but was joined not too long into the set by Airto Moreira, critically acclaimed Brazilian-African percussionist, and Philadelphia-based Grammy Award winner Randy Brecker on trumpet.  Core Culturemix membership included Marcos Ubeda on keyboards, whose composition Volcano had the audience smoldering at the band's delivery.  Per Gade on guitar and Stefan Rademacher on bass each took the crowd through solo scenarios which had them showing their appreciation vocally and through applause.  Brecker of course was a crowd favorite, and his entire deliberately nonchalant, but skilled trumpeting, especially on his personal piece called Shanghai, sent each Iridium club-goer into their own personal ecstasy.

   Airto Moreira joined Culturemix on stage and tantalized the crowd with his wide range of hypnotic percussion playing, while his call-and-response technique invoked the African-Brazilian traditions. His ability to both vocally reproduce and create a multitude of sound, and his duet with Billy on the traditional "big drums", reminded all present that Airto is a well-established recording artist in his own right, and are reminders that his own shows are events not be missed!  The legendary Cobham on drums was the clincher.  He gave the crowd what they craved, lavish drum lines which alternately spread and teased at just the right times, then majestically commanded attention and the spotlight when adoring fans yelled in homage "Billy!"

   Featured in Culturemix is Zurich-based steel pannist
Junior Gill who hails originally from England.  He also alternates masterfully on light percussion throughout. From the opening selection where Gill on pan was featured in the opening riffs, to the unique pan jazz/funk/rock fusion which he facilitated throughout the set, all eyes and ears of those present took in the riveting sound of pan.  For some, this is still an instrument that is not too familiar in this genre.  Cobham's inclusion of the pan in his mix is an effective, well-thought out combination which highlights the power of the Pan Jazz/funk genre, especially when there is an aligning of the "drums" - Billy Cobham on traditional drum kit, and Junior Gill on the pan or steel “drum.”

   Cobham's strategic alliance with Gill came about some four-five years ago, when they gigged together at the Montreux Jazz Festival.  Gill did a call-and-response with Cobham on drums, who liked what he heard.  About one year later in Freiburg, Germany, Gill joined Cobham and his band.  That began the start of a musical association which is still going strong.  Culturemix is just one of Cobham's many musical projects, and when he is off touring with his other bands around the world, Gill runs his own music center in Switzerland which has been around for the past seven years - Music Center Affoltern
When asked about how he felt about that first "session" with Cobham, Junior Gill confessed that he had been "scared." That obviously did not diminish his playing skills, as the melodic reciprocation between Gill and Cobham is music to the ears. 

   Cobham himself is no stranger to the pan instrument, letting When Steel Talks know in a brief chat, that he had been mesmerized by the instrument as young as two years old in his native Panama.  His family in the 1940's made and played pans all around him, and those experiences never left.

When the first of the night’s two sets was over, several delighted Billy Cobham devotees did not leave without picking up signed copies of Culturemix's latest CD called COLOURS. The ten-selection CD showcases many of the set’s featured selections such as Volcano, Where Do We Go From Here and Moscow Meeting.

  Jazz lovers congratulated all the performers they could garner a few moments with then coalesced around their personal band favorites, not missing the opportunity to grab a couple personal photos with them.

  The Iridium continues to be a trendsetter catering to the Jazz genre and all its contributing musical influences, and the club’s acoustics are first-rate. Considered one of the top jazz clubs in the world, it is an experience not to be missed when visiting what is arguably the greatest city of the world, New York.

Cobham’s Culturemix sparkled nightly at the Iridium from October 12-17, 2004

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Wilbert "Junior" Gill...

Pan is in the "genes", as Junior Gill is second cousin to another pan player who also gets around the world - Robert Greenidge.  Even though they have never played together, they have chatted on occasions.

The Pan Passion started when as an eleven-year old math whiz in West London, he learned to play from the pannists in a then-appearing Grenadian steelband called the Kickstars.

Gill has never  taken part in a Trinidad and Tobago National Panorama, but in 1990 he arranged the "Bomb Tune" for the Arima Melodians.  The stint was made possible through the intervention of the UK's BT Melodians' Terry Noel.  He has also arranged for at least two Swiss steelbands:  Bollito Misto and Kool Kats Youth Steelband.

Four years later - 1994 found him in Trinidad again, this time as a participant in the Steelband Music Festival, where as the Swiss entrant, he place 10th in the solo competition.  He jokingly remembers that "they referred to him by his real name -  Wilbert!"  Whether he is called Junior or Wilbert, his skill set is never in dispute, and he continues to be yet another luminary in the world of steelpan.

more on Junior Gill...

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Pan In New York 2004

An educational, historical, cultural and artistic masterpiece that showcases one of the most vibrant live music performance movements in the United States today...