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Donald Byrd & The Blackbyrds: The Jazz Funk Collection (Robinsongs) 17th April 2020



4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)




Super triple-CD set delivering 39 tracks written, produced or performed by Donald Byrd – covering a period starting in 1973 and the beginning of the jazz funk era.

Donaldson Toussaint L’Ouverture Byrd II aka Donald Byrd, left us in 2013 at the age of 80, but his musical legacy and influence lives on.

The legendary US jazz trumpeter and vocalist was a sought-after sideman for many jazz artists of his generation, and a star in his own right across decades.

A bebop jazz man at his core, who pushed the envelope as one of the pioneers of funk and soul, but he always remained true to his first love, jazz. As a bandleader, Donald Byrd was a big influence on the early career of Herbie Hancock.

This set – 13 cuts on each of the three discs – is the first time for a collection of tracks by these artists on a CD package.

Donald Byrd started his recording career in the mid-50s. He performed with Lionel Hampton before finishing high school and he played in a military band during a term in the United States Air Force.

Byrd obtained a bachelor’s degree in music and a master’s degree, and while still at the Manhattan School he joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, as the successor to Clifford Brown.

After leaving the Jazz Messengers in 1956, he performed with a who’s who of jazz stars, such as Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Monk and later, Herbie Hancock.

But by the late-60s and while on the famed Blue Note label, his output focused more on an electric sound and a few years later, the jazz funkers adopted him – and he was sampled by many acid jazz artists.

Here we have tracks from Donald Byrd, The Blackbyrds and one from Donald Byrd featuring Kay Haith.  Of course, his biggie “Walking In Rhythm”, is included from The Blackbyrds – track eight on CD # 1.

The smash hit produced by Donald, has sold well over a million copies, certified gold and Grammy-nominated.

More of his R&B hits are found here, including “Rock Creek Park”, “Time Is Movin’ ” and the top three hit, “Happy Music”,  written and produced by Donald.

There are more classic Donald Byrd tracks in this collection, such as “Black Byrd”, “Loves So Far Away” and “Flight Time”.

The first CD kicks off with “Lansana’s Priestess”, from the 1973 album “Street Lady” – close to eight minutes of pure jazz funk, produced by the legendary Mizell Brothers.

During the 1960s, Donald was teaching jazz at several universities, including Howard, where he met students to start the Blackbyrds with.

The Blackbyrds made seven albums for Fantasy Records, with Donald as a producer or as a writer. This set includes some of the club classics such as “Supernatural Feeling” and “Street Games”.

The bonus track on CD # 3 is a goodie: “Gut Level” by The Blackbyrds – the only track of the 39 cuts here that Donald Byrd had no involvement in. But it is a sought-after track, produced by Larry and Fonce Mizell, who worked closely with Donald Byrd in his career. The excellent “Blackbyrds’ Theme” pops up on the first disc.

The R&B chart hit “Change (Makes You Want To Hustle)” is a welcome addition, as is the version of “Dominoes” which he recorded for the Blue Note “Live at The Roxy” album, which become an underground club classic. The third track on the final disc is a fan favourite, “Thank You For Funking Up My Life”.

In 1978, Donald Byrd moved record labels to Elektra, recording four albums with them. Three with the backing Band ‘125th Street N.Y.C.’, – one of those albums featured drums played by Isaac Hayes .

From the Elektra output, here they include the Top 20 R&B Hit “Love Has Come Around” and the original 12” version of “Sexy Dancer”.

Journalist Charles Waring has penned comprehensive sleeve notes for the package, which is an essential listen for jazz funk enthusiasts, Donald Byrd fans and anyone with seriously good taste in music…and with 39 classy tracks on three CDs for an investment of less than £20, what’s not to like?


By Jeff Kilverhall



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