DONALD BYRD — Kofi (review)

DONALD BYRD — Kofi album cover Album · 1995 · Funk Jazz Buy this album from MMA partners
4.5/5 ·
Sean Trane
Well it seems that as usual, Byrd is late one lap in the groundbreaking side of the jazz venture, but with Kofi, he’s trying to make up some lost grounds, but despite Trane’s unfortunate disappearance, guys like Herbie and Miles were still widening the gap with Byrd. While the present Kofi album might make In Flight sound and look like yester-century, and Slow Drag sound from a different decade, it’s light years behind Bitches Brew, Mwandishi, In A Silent Way or even (to some extent) Miles In The Sky. I’m stretching it a bit to stress my point, though, because Kofi is a rather up-tempo affair that is clearly in the vicinity of the JR/F waters, but has yet to cross the meridian. All I just said above must be taken with a grain of salt, because Kofi was not released as an album back then, but as a compilation in the mid-90’s, stemming from two sessions around that turn of the decade, some of which found their way on the Electric Byrd album. Not surprisingly, you’ll find the usual Byrd-gang suspects, but also the same guests as on that afore-mentioned slice of wax.

Up first is the late 69 sessions, a rather acoustic affair (despite Pearson’s electric piano) and the late 70’s session which features Richardson on guitar and the two Brazilian percussionists Moreira and Um Romao. Another distinction is Campbell’s trombone and Tabakin’s flutes are not present in the latter session. The 9-mins+ Kofi opens the album rather conventionally, but Tabakin’s delightful flute interventions give an immediate modern touch bordering on fusion, but the up-tempo tune does take an interesting twist with Pearson’s Rhodes. Just as interesting is the following lengthy Fufu track, a quicker-tempoed groove where transcendental solos and hypnotizing rhythms abound in the BB “direction in music”. While these first two tracks have an African influence (or spirit), the following “ballad” Perpetual Love might seem a bit cheesy and over-sweetish with its slow lush solos over Rhodes layers.

The rest of the “album” has a light-Brazilian feel, probably induced by Airto and Dom’s presence, but they are closer to Mwandishi’s type of steaming jazz-rock than Miles BB. Elmina takes its sweet time to evolve, but once on the groove, it simply soars like an eagle over its mountain range. The closing Loud Minority isn’t far from the funk-jazz that is found on Herbie’s Fat Albert Rotunda album, but with that extended-jam feel, with Pearson’s Rhodes taking the centre role. Awesome stuff.

While Donald was definitely on a modernizing quest, Kofi manages to show a real evolution in Byrd’s composing in just a short year, but he would definitely hit his peak in some 18 months with Ethiopian Knights, when almost catching up Miles and Herbie; but just past that, he would sell-out to mass-market soul-funk-jazz. In the meantime, the present album makes you wish it had been released back then, because it would stand up in my top 5 Byrd historical albums. Despite it being a posthumous release, Kofi is in that top 5, anyway.

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