Monday, March 14, 2011
BILL COSBY: Badfoot Brown & The Bunions Braford Funeral & Marching Band
I can say without reservation that this album rules. Do you like jazz? Do you like funk? Do you like things that are awesome? If so…
I love the warm, slightly murky production and the heavy, deep soul this band brings to the plate. Bill Cosby (who, incidentally, was also known to moonlight as a comedian) directed this intrepid band (credited on the LP jacket as "assorted mysterious musicians") through two albums in the early 1970s. This first one is from 1971. The liner notes cite Miles Davis (especially his "latest ventures" – which would have included the superlative Bitches Brew, A Tribute to Jack Johnson and Live-Evil) as the main influence, along with Mingus, Duke, and Gil Evans.
It's the Miles Davis influence that matters most. We're treated here to a pair of side-long compositions (not unlike Jack Johnson or the first disc of Bitches Brew) constructed from long vamping takes pieced together via tape edits (the liner notes mention that this band is unlikely to appear in person because "this is a recording band. There are too many things to set off, to isolate, to edit down, so that it sounds like what I want it to sound like.") Repetition and groove are the key; ostinato bass and layered percussion provide a churning bed for open, Wayne-Shorterish sax lines, slinking guitar and Cosby's twinkling electric piano.
The first side is "Martin’s Funeral", Martin being MLK. Cosby's liner notes describe the funeral procession for the assassinated civil right leader, and how the long slow walk took on different shades; hostile, conversational, depressed. An elegiac four-chord vamp, (which some of you may have heard elsewhere), cycles around for that slow walk, interrupted by ominous percussion breakdowns or blurred by the twitching of dissonant guitars. Program music usually doesn't work too well in a jazz-funk setting, (no time for tone painting, we gotta vamp and blow!) but the picture is vivid here, and the music is sad or hopeful or whatever, depending on the moment or the listener's present predisposition.
"Hybish Shybish" allows the gang to rock out a bit more. Cosby’s chops ain't bad, and the group is loose and daring. Listen for that electrifying harmonica! That acoustic/electric piano duet! The rolling and tumbling congas and cowbells!
It's a shame there was only one follow-up to this album, an almost identically-titled record that came out soon after. I'm keeping my eyes open for that one.