DONALD BYRD — Ethiopian Knights (review)

DONALD BYRD — Ethiopian Knights album cover Album · 1972 · Funk Jazz Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
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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