Donald Byrd's transitional sessions from 1969-1971 are actually some of the trumpeter's most intriguing work, balancing accessible, funky, Davis-style fusion with legitimate jazz improvisation. Electric Byrd, from 1970, is the best of the bunch, as Byrd absorbs the innovations of Bitches Brew and comes up with one of his most consistent fusion sets of any flavor. Byrd leads his largest fusion group yet (ten to 11 pieces), featuring many of his cohorts of the time (including Jerry Dodgion, Lew Tabackin, and Frank Foster on various woodwinds). Most important are electric pianist Duke Pearson, who once again dominates the arrangements, and percussionist Airto Moreira, who in places lends a strong Brazilian feel that predates Return to Forever. Moreira also contributes one of the four compositions, "Xibaba," which starts out as an airy Brazilian tune but morphs into a free-form effects extravaganza; the rest are Byrd originals that prove equally imaginative and diverse. The Brazilian-tinged opener "Estavanico" has a gentle, drifting quality that's often disrupted by jarring dissonances. There's also the shifting -- and sometimes even disappearing -- slow groove of "Essence," and the hard-edged, bop-based funk of "The Dude." Much of the album has a spacy, floating feel indebted to the psychedelic fusion of Bitches Brew; it's full of open-ended solo improvisations, loads of amplification effects, and striking sonic textures. The arrangements are continually surprising, and the band never works the same groove too long, switching or completely dropping the underlying rhythms. So even if it wears its influences on its sleeve, Electric Byrd is indisputably challenging, high-quality fusion. It's also the end of the line for jazz purists as far as Donald Byrd is concerned, which is perhaps part of the reason the album has yet to receive its proper due.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Huey