DONALD BYRD — Ethiopian Knights (review)

DONALD BYRD — Ethiopian Knights album cover Album · 1972 · Funk Jazz Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
Abraxas
Ok, what we have here is like a mirror reflecting Miles Davis' 70s style, slightly changed. Donald Byrd, also a well-known jazz trumpeter, by the end of the 60s had also become interested in the use of electric instruments and the use of them for long improvisations, much alike the basic idea of Davis' electric bands. Though if you compare Davis fusion music with Byrd's, there are a lot of differences.

First of all, the musicians on board were crucial for Miles' improvisations, having such unique players as Hancock, Grossman, McLaughlin, and so many others, without those specifically he wouldn't have managed to do what he did. That's not really the case of Donald's electric albums, not wanting to disregard the ability of his players, it's just that none really seems to add their own voice, not a flaw though, just a clear difference. What is similar is that both trumpet players called many musicians to play, thus having a richer sound with more room to interact, and it’s the case of this album where you have the chance to hear Hutcherson’s vibraphone as a great element to the psychedelic atmosphere.

Another difference is that Miles Davis was way more ambitious and constantly wanting to progress, with the addition of new production techniques, African and Indian influences, and what-not. Byrd, on the other hand, played it safer, mainly being interested in funk and still retaining much of his hard bop roots, on Ethiopian Knights we get two 15+ minute jams with repetitive grooves (akin to Davis' repetition) and spacey keyboards being the base of these improvs, while on top there's room for a lot of groovy soloing, which really doesn't compare to the creative soloing of Davis' records but it's still good. What I’m trying to say is that, while both players had funk and psychedelic music ideas on their minds, it’s the case of Donald that he remains way more simplistic compared to the constant interaction of Miles’ band which is always trying to stretch out.

My conclusion is that, although Donald Byrd didn’t make brilliant improvisations as those from Miles Davis, Ethiopian Knights (and Electric Byrd from 1970) is still a forgotten spacey funk gem of the early 70s that should be listened by everyone who is fond of long improvisation which are slow-moving and have repetitive grooves, yet there’s actually more going on than one thinks. Not a masterpiece, but still highly enjoyable.
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