Donald Byrd – Black Byrd – Blue Note LA-047-F – stereo vinyl (1973) ***1/2:
(Donald Byrd – trumpet; Joe Sample, Kevin Toney, Freddie Perren – piano; David T Walker, Barney Perry – guitar; Allan Curtis Barnes – flute, oboe, sax; Roger Glenn – flute, sax; Fonze Mizell – trumpet; Wilton Felder, Chuck Rainey, Joe Hill – bass; Keith Kilgo, Harvey Mason – drums; Bobbye Hall, & Stephanie Spruill – percussion)
Black Byrd was Donald Byrd’s entree into R & B and funk music of the early 1970s. It found immediate success and there was a period of time when this album was Blue Note’s best seller. The album’s vocals had the feel of a post-Motown-issued soul project. Its orchestrations have a debt to an Isaac Hayes record from that period. Blending vocals and easy going rhythms, it provided dance music for its time period. It did have excesses, however, approaching a porno soundtrack, minus the requisite moaning.
It was obvious that Byrd was exiting his hard bop discography of superb music due to the fact that the listening public’s tastes were changing and mainstream jazz was not selling. Electronic free form jazz and fusion were the flavor of the day, and Byrd was ready to enter that arena. Miles Davis was, as usual, a step ahead in setting new stages for adventurous listening, and Byrd was savvy enough to know when it was time to venture outward to feed the changes listeners desired. The success of his new album proved him to be a savvy predictor of what would appeal to a new generation of fans.
This LP remastering was produced and arranged by Larry Mizell. Along with his brother Alphonzo, they produced a series of fusion albums for Blue Note and other labels that combined funk and beats that had a “feel good” groove that was contagious. They used many of the sidemen from this LP on numerous other albums that set the standard for the genre, much like the Funk Brothers did for earlier Motown issues.
You can’t go wrong with David T Walker, Chuck Rainey, and Harvey Mason setting the groove in motion, and Bobbye Hall, as evidenced by her work with Bill Withers, was a percussionist extraordinaire. She performed on numerous top 10 hits for a multitude of artists.
Black Byrd sounds mighty nice on its re-release in the Blue Note 75th anniversary vinyl series. Bernie Grundman deserves kudos for a superb remastering effort. Memorable tunes include “Flight Time” and “Love’s So Far Away.” The contribution of Roger Glenn on flute and sax need mentioning, and Donald Byrd’s trumpet backing on these funk numbers is understated, but still evidence of his trumpet prowess. Fans of this R & B, funk, and fusion time capsule will appreciate this LP’s superb sound blend.
Side One: Flight Time, Black Byrd, Love’s So Far Away
Side Two: Mr. Thomas, Sky High, Slop Jar Blues, Where Are We Going?