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Friday, February 29, 2008

Donald Byrd - Black Byrd

Name: Donald Byrd
Album: Black Byrd
Year: 1973
Style: Afro-American Jazz, Funk
Similar Bands: Isaac Hayes
"One-Word" Review: Struttin'-Groove-Soul-Jazz
Based Out Of: Detroit, MI
Label: Blue Note, United Artists
Black Byrd - Cover
Black Byrd - Back

Black Byrd (1973)
  1. Flight Time (8:30) (Sample)
  2. Black Byrd (8:00) (Sample)
  3. Love's So Far Away (6:00) (Sample)/
  4. Mr. Thomas (5:15) (Sample)
  5. Sky High (5:59) (Sample)
  6. Slop Jar Blues (6:00) (Sample)
  7. Where Are We Going? (4:40) (Sample)
Album Rating (1-10):

Members & Other Bands:
Donald Byrd - Trumpet
Produced and arranged by Larry Mizell for Sky High Productions, Inc.
Executive producer: George Butler
Recorded at Sound Factory, Hollywood, California
Chief engineer & remix: Dave Hassinger
Assistant engineer & remix: Chuck Davis
Assistant engineer: Steve Waldman
Electronic music consultant: Reggie Andrews
Photography: Art Hanson
Graphic art work: Eileen Anderson

Unknown-ness: I had never heard of Donald Byrd. I am not into jazz, so I did not know the name or anything about the album. I did not look at the record to see that it was on the Blue Note label, which I do know is jazz, and thus would have known what to expect. But from the cover, I thought the album would be a southern gospel record. Even with Donald pictured on the back with his trumpet, I still bought the record with the idea based on the front picture, harkening back to the olden days in the south, where gospel ran supreme.

Album Review: I cannot claim knowledge of jazz, other than some names that play the genre. I could not differentiate between Coltrane, Davis or Monk or probably even Gillespie. So please take note that this review is not from a knowledgeable jazz enthusiast.

The album starts with a jet taking off, and a mechanical beep sets the tempo for the groovy bass driven theme, which sounds like a Broadway-style composition. The drums mimic a metronome, a tinkling piano lightens the mood, and the trumpet adds to the 70's funk that I associate with Isaac Hayes. The song paints an image of waking up, added by its flute usage and slow but funky rhythm. Halfway through the song, the tempo changes slightly. A "whaka-whaka" bass is added, and we move from exploring the bedroom to walking outside, no, a strutting outside down the street. The song slowly fades out, but it seems like it could have go on forever. Byrd chose to end the song before it became too monotonous. "Black Byrd", the second song plays like a 70's detective show theme. Like a straightforward R&B groove, lyrics begin with "Walkin' along, playing a song." There is a distinct chorus where "Black Byrd" is used, and it is backed up with a climactic musical congregation. There are many subtle musical features in the background that play up the sneaky mood. The vocals and even some instruments utilize an echo that mimics slow-motion/freeze-frame action shots of 70's cop shows. Other than cop background music, it could also be seen as a stylistic pimp theme song. "Love's So Far Away" picks right up with the shuffling percussion of tambourine & cymbals. The flute is at the fore-front of the musical track at the beginning, and is then taken over by the trumpet. They complete with each other for control at times, but they also blend into each other. There is a brief moment when the music pauses, where it could potentially end (around 5 minutes) and the drums kick back in and send the music for a final minute long reprise before fading out.

"Mr. Thomas" starts side two, with more street-strutting groove, this time moved along by a synthesized guitar sound. The flute and trumpet play with each other, dancing around like two birds paralleling each other in flight. The song plays out like a jam session, only playing to display the talents of the two key instruments: trumpet and flute. Again, as if to end before monotony, the song fades out. The next song is a more relaxed groovy track, not as out-steppin as the others, but a more free-flowing tempo. "Sky-High" is perfectly named, as it feels like a tour around the clouds, gliding up and down on warm currents. Vocals touch off the track, but they only function as an instrument, rather than a voice to sing along with. Byrd plays some head-spinning trumpet, and there is not as much flute to take center stage. Instead, the flute steps back, and concentrate on the basic melody of the backing slow groove. The instruments picks up the pace toward the end of the song, but the drum n' bass tempo remains the same, in its non-rushed, cruising high-altitude flight. "Slop Jar Blues" is a staggering, funky, liquid tune. Vocals are added, singing "Sittin On A Slop Jar," almost seeming to be an afterthought. But they exemplify the blues theme with the vocal's tone. Without them, it would just be another jazzy, funk number. The final track "Where Are We Going" begins as easy listening jazz, with a slow, almost 70's disco beat. The trumpet takes center stage for most of the time, but the flute has it on occasion. Vocals come into the song and they follow the melody in lyric. They add an interesting dimension to an otherwise slow song. They present the best hook on the album in its chorus, but the song is very unrepresentative of the rest of the album.

On the whole, this is a time capsule of 70's jazz-funk. It is so dated, that you can almost feel the suede 3-piece suits and brown leather shoes. The music is just a pedestal on which Donald puts his trumpet and flute for display. It seems there are more theatrical elements to this album than straightforward jazz, so I can see how some of the purists would have been disappointed with this musical direction (like many reviews remark about). But to me, it comes off as more entertaining than most of the jazz I have heard in passing.

Stand Out Track:

Black Byrd


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