Just as psychedelics had swept through the world of rock-n-roll in the 60s, it also eventually influenced the world of jazz too, albeit a few years later. This mixture of jazz fusion and psychedelia sometimes resulted in some interesting music, Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock in particular were able to use electronic effects to enhance their early 70s albums, but then there were albums by other artists that were proof that all the electro gizmos in the world could not save mediocre music. In fact, if the artist was leaning too heavily on the electronic effects to save his album, that only made such effects all the more cheezy and annoying, which brings us to Donald Byrd’s unfortunate “Electric Byrd”. The album title alone lets you know that they are hoping the word ‘electric’ will help sell the album.
Donald Byrd came on strong in the late 50s as a rising star in the world of hard bop. He cut records with some of the best, including Quincy Jones, Phil Woods, Herbie Hancock, Pepper Adams and many more. As the earning power of jazz began to dwindle, Byrd spent the rest of his career involved more in RnB, dance, pop and fusion, whatever helped pay the bills. So it came to pass in 1970 that Miles Davis got a huge promotional push from Columbia for his “Bitches Brew” album, and the dollars came rolling in. Not to be outdone, Byrd bought himself an echo machine, plugged in his trumpet and recorded “Electric Byrd“, but he forgot an important step, writing some memorable material that’s worth recording.
The opening track on “Electric Byrd” is probably the best track on the album. Here we have a laid back African groove that sounds like a cross between Sun Ra and Lonnie Liston Smith, and the effects are not too overbearing. It’s the second, and closing track on this side where things go very wrong. Here we have Ron Carter walking the bass over a simple two chord blues vamp. This is the kind of music musicians play late at night when they are too tired to play a real song. Also, walking the bass is a great technique, but it sounds like a total anachronism against all the needless psychedelic effects. In among the ‘go nowhere solo noodling’, some sax player starts shrieking, but it seems more out of boredom and frustration than inspiration. The drummer tries to go into double time, but its too late, the others have nodded off, or just don’t care anymore.
Side two opens with echoed trumpet screams that sound like a direct rip of “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down”. This track recovers for a bit with a nice Latin melody and groove from Airto, but then someone starts messing with the echo on the electric piano and the rhythm gets swamped with sludgy echo syrup. Closing track, “The Dude”, cans all the effects and goes for a decent funky soul jazz riff in a style that Byrd will be picking up soon after he ditches all the psychedelic crap. Its an okay track, but it seems like an odd fit with the other three cuts, possibly it was originally meant for a different album.
There are some okay moments on here, particularly opener “Estavanico”, but much of the rest of this album is best appreciated as hippie kitsch from an age of not-so-innocent indulgence.