8. Donald Byrd, “Lansana’s Priestess” (Street Lady; Blue Note, 1973)
Critiques of Byrd’s electric period as being fusion-lite aren’t entirely off base. Come 1973, in fact, they weren’t off base at all: “Lansana’s Priestess” is just a few BPMs above elevator music. Yet if the vibe is very much suave proto-disco, Byrd himself is at the top of his trumpeting game. His lines are as they always were: clean, clear, but with a smoky veneer; carefully balanced between superb technical skill and discrete, concise statements that sound cool against the surprisingly hot drums (courtesy of one Harvey Mason). He even gets in a few truly bravura licks as he follows those steady rolling rhythms. Subsequent recordings would dive deeper into commercial waters—and coincidentally or no, would feature less and less of Byrd’s playing—but within the immediate pleasures of “Lansana’s Priestess,” the trumpeter still had something strong to say.