DONALD BYRD — Ethiopian Knights

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DONALD BYRD - Ethiopian Knights cover
4.21 | 10 ratings | 2 reviews
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Album · 1972

Filed under Funk Jazz


A1 The Emperor 15:40
A2 Jamie 4:00
B1 The Little Rasti 17:44

Total Time: 37:09


Bass – Wilton Felder
Composed By – Donald Byrd
Drums – Ed Greene
Guitar – David T. Walker, Greg Poree
Organ – Joe Sample
Piano – William Henderson
Tenor Saxophone – Harold Land
Trombone – Thurman Green
Trumpet – Donald Byrd
Vibraphone – Bobby Hutcherson

About this release

Blue Note – BST 84380 (US)

Recorded at A&M Recording Studios,August 25th & 26th, 1971

Thanks to snobb, Abraxas for the updates


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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.

Members reviews

Sean Trane
Like some (actually many), Donald Byrd had to evolve from his standard jazz creation to expand in the JR/F realm, probably a bit late to make an impact, though. Indeed, like some more black jazz artistes, he managed to get to Africa and also discivered his long-lost heritage, and the album’s title can attest to that.

Recorded over two late July 71 days, EK is definitely one of the best early JR/F albums ever recorded, but since it is an isolated Byrd album in his vast discography, it tends to get lost in the sheer mass or such releases back then. Actually I’d tend to call EK more of a jazz-funk than a jazz-rock album, because it tends to find a groove and maintain it, while letting the lead instruments solo away. Clearly Byrd had listened to a few JR/F albums before getting down to record one of his own, and being a trumpet player, he obviously listened to Miles, but Harold Lane’s sax seems to owe something to Traffic’s Chris Wood (or the opposite)

The album is off to a superb start with the excellent Emperor track (obviously The Negus), a lengthy but all-too-quickly-over mid-tempo groove, somewhere between Miles’ Bitches Brew and Traffic’s Low Spark At Barleycorn’s Factory era. The group is soaring high in the sky, providing plenty of orgasmic moments for the fusionheads, and it seems only 7 mins have gone, when the track glides into its follow-up with an organ. Tremendous stuff, really. The short (and teeny-weeny cheesy) Jamie track might surprise the listener a bit, because it seems out of the album’s musical context, but it is really a fine piece, opening on a church-like organ, but soon Don’s trumpet takes the lead for a sumptuously lush solo that would be one of his best, if it was on another album.

The flipside features the almost 18-mins Little Rasti epic, opening on a drum solo for an introduction, but soon veers into a mid-tempo groove where the electric guitar glide gently over band, slowly gaining momentum to soar, then segueing for Lane’s superb sax. Again the funky bass and sax is much reminiscent of Traffic’s early 70’s ventures, and maybe to some, it’ll have lengths, but when you’re in the groove and in trance state (not hard to reach with such irresistible grooves), it’ll appear all-too-short. Wished both sides last at least five more minutes each.

While Byrd’s discography is made from a few gems like the standard Slow drag, there are few albums that stick out like Ethiopian Knights and shine like a thousand suns in the middle of a drak cloudless night. The only slight flaw (Jamie) is not really one anymore, first because it’s quite good and doesn’t shock, but it’s also a welcome interlude between the two giant epics… Much recommended really!!!

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