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JazzTimes 10: Essential Donald Byrd Recordings

Highlights from the catalog of an underrecognized trumpet great

7. Donald Byrd, “Xibaba” (Electric Byrd; Blue Note, 1970)

Six weeks after Miles Davis unleashed the radical sound of Bitches Brew on the world, Byrd was ready to take that idiom in his own direction. According to one critical train of thought, it’s a watered-down, pop-pleasing version of what Miles was doing. No doubt that Electric Byrd is rather more accessible than Bitches Brew, because on tunes like “Xibaba,” Byrd deploys overtly pretty harmonies; long, resonant notes, and gauzy atmospheres (including uncounted layers of echo) that suggest what would soon be called ambient music. Nevertheless, it’s an experimental and chance-taking album, with Byrd riding more than shaping the funk grooves that rise out of “Xibaba.” Where he does engage with funk, he cross-pollinates it with a more conventional jazz-improv vocabulary, which also amplifies its accessibility. His old bandmate Pepper Adams re-joins for Electric Byrd, as does Duke Pearson (on Fender Rhodes); also along for the ride are flutist Hermeto Pascoal (more aggressively involved in the rhythm) and some Bitches Brew alum, including bassist Ron Carter and percussionist Airto Moreira—who, by the way, wrote “Xibaba.”

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Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on the national and international jazz scenes, he has been covering D.C.’s local jazz community since 2009. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, and as such spends most days either hunkered down at a screen or inside his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.