Listen: Black Byrd / Donald Byrd
Apparently, purists howled with indignation when Donald Byrd released his BLACK BYRD album, a full-fledged foray into R&B that erupted into a popular phenomenon. He was branded a sellout and a traitor to his hard bop credentials, especially after it became the biggest selling album in Blue Note’s history. What the elitists missed, though, was that BLACK BYRD was the moment when his brand of fusion finally stepped out from under the shadow of his chief influence, Miles Davis, and found a distinctive voice of it’s own.
Never before had a jazz musician embraced the celebratory sound and style of contemporary funk as fully as Donald Byrd did here, not even Miles Davis, whose dark, chaotic jungle funk stood in sharp contrast to the bright, breezy, danceable music on BLACK BYRD. He gives free rein to producer/arranger/composer Larry Mizell, who crafts a series of tightly focused, melodic pieces often indebted to the lengthier orchestrations of Isaac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield. adding a funky sense of groove that’s near irresistible.
Hence Blue Note’s decision to edit the album’s title track into an abbreviated single, given the solos are mostly melodic and in the pocket, yet allow the funk to take center stage. Despite the fact that the electric piano, sound effects, and Roger Glenn’s ubiquitous flute date the music somewhat, it’s really part of the charm.
The album and single were state of the art for 1973, when Rich Fazekas at United Artists, who distributed Blue Note, sent me a copy. BLACK BYRD set a new standard for all future jazz/R&B/funk fusions, of which there were many.
Doanld Byrd would continue to redefine his sound on equally essential albums like STREET LADY and the fantastic PLACES AND SPACES, but BLACK BYRD stands as his groundbreaking signature statement.
Thank you Rich Fazekas, Aquarianrealm, Steve Huey and Donald Byrd.