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Essential companion piece to 'Electric Byrd' (or is it the other way around...),
This review is from: Kofi (Audio CD)
If there is one definitive piece of evidence that Blue Note records went in the toilet the second Alfred Lion left the fold, it is Donald Byrd's "Kofi". Or rather, it is the fact that this excellent material was scrapped and not released for over twenty years while the label sought to appease its new ownership, United Artists, with aimless commercial slop in the meantime. I'm certain that one listen to this music from any jazz fan would confirm my contention that such a disgrace cannot be overstated.
Byrd, of course, would eventually give the company men what they wanted with the crossover twaddle of "Black Byrd", but in the late '60s fusion still belonged to the realm of intelligent experimentation. The sessions that produced the five tracks on "Kofi" were some of the very best that came in the influential wake of Miles Davis' seminal, early 'jazz-rock'; at least at this point in time, Byrd sounds as if he absorbed the essence of what made that music so amazing and was able to filter it through his own creative lens without sounding like a carbon copy of "In A Silent Way". This is due largely to the fact that he made a conscious effort to blend atmospheric electric colors with a thematic African flavor, which lends the album its own unique character.
The most essential element Byrd incorporates here is that of sonic space. In particular, the minimalist groove of "Fufu" and the dominance of an echoplexed, Herbie Hancock-like Fender Rhodes on "Perpetual Love" provide lush and vivid backdrops for Byrd and tenor saxophonist Frank Foster (who is absolutely fantastic on this record) to undertake some of the best soloing of their respective careers. Keyboardist Duke Pearson, bassist Ron Carter, Byrd, Foster, and drummer/percussionist Airto Moreira (making an auspicious recording debut) gel fabulously on these tracks, never coming close to overstepping one another or undermining the integrity of the overall canvas. On the opening title song, they are joined by flautist Lew Tabakin, who turns in a riveting performance, blowing a steady cascade of notes over the pointed brass arrangements and Pearson's rich chordal tones. Moreira then rises to the occasion, endowing "Fufu" with its accented rhythms, while Byrd and Foster share the limelight in "Perpetual Love", attaining a sublime series of trade-offs. The final two tracks, "Elmina" and Foster's "The Loud Minority", feature a heavier emphasis on volume and funk/rock influences, with Mickey Roker, usually a more subtle player, adding a far more aggressive approach to the drums. Although these songs are not as strong in a musical or environmental sense, the strength and conviction of the playing ensures that the thread of quality is maintained through the entirety of the set.
"Kofi" is truly one of the lost treasures of this short-lived but highly fertile period where jazz musicians were beginning to explore the possibilities of different styles and instrumentations, before the overindulgence of electronics and abandonment of improvisation swept the entire spirit of it away. It may be unfathomable that it rotted in the vaults for years, but at least it's out there now to be found (though certainly not in most stores) - and it does make for a hell of exciting find when you come to it.