Donald Byrd and 125th St., N.Y.C. / Donald Byrd

Love Byrd

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Recorded in 1981 and produced by Isaac Hayes, trumpeter and composer Donald Byrd's first recording for Elektra is the sound of a musician who has truly lost his way. Byrd's nearly decade-long collaboration with the Mizell Brothers ended when he left Blue Note for Elektra. It wasn't so much that Byrd left "jazz" for funk and proto-disco, the latter elements had been part of his sound since 1972 with Black Byrd (some would say the real transition to more R&B based music began before that with Fancy Free in 1965). The period with the Mizells, though decried by jazz critics everywhere as a sellout, was a fertile one for Byrd creatively and married his vision of being a viable and accessible artist, one who sought out the direct experience of soul and funk as a way of getting his music across. It was also a successful one commercially -- his albums sold to a wider audience and were played on commercial FM radio. But by the time he went Elektra, Byrd was caught between a rock and a hard place, and this set proves it. With vocals being handled by Hayes' Hot Buttered Soul Unlimited quartet, and the producer himself playing piano, vibes, Rhodes, and writing, along with Byrd's 125th Street N.Y.C. Band, there was little left for Byrd to actually do. Hayes' stamp on this record is thorough. There are some slick but effective soul ballads here, such as the album's finest moment, "Butterfly" written by Andrew Walker (with beautiful vibes work by Hayes and acoustic piano by Myra Walker, as well as the most prominent work by Byrd's trumpet); the bandleader's sole contribution "I'll Always Love You" is here, along with Hayes' own "I Feel Like Loving You Today" (a slow-ish, sultry burner). The up-tempo tracks fall flat as funk. There is something canned sounding about most of them, such as William Duckett's "Love Has Come Around," which opens with a majestic guitar and piano intro before kicking off the two-note proto-disco vamp and handclap, which makes the track feel empty and cold. The deep funk cover of Cole Porter's "Love for Sale," is a bad joke despite some killer clavinet work by Albert Crawford, Jr., and "I Love Your Love," is more a vamp and a hook than a song. The set ends with another ballad with Hayes' voice out in front of his Hot Buttered Soul Unlimited. The question here is daunting: where's Byrd? His playing is simply an accessory to Hayes' arrangements, and his fills, while present on every cut, never really bite and take hold; they're just there. Byrd's artistic vision was cloudy at best when he was with Elektra, and this exercise in blandness is a case in point.

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