Bill Cosby: weird 'n' funky | Bleader

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Bill Cosby: weird 'n' funky

Posted By on 06.26.08 at 12:58 PM

For this week's paper I wrote a Best of Chicago blurb about Dusty Groove, but I didn't mention that this excellent record store has also become a reissue label. Last month DG released an album I'd never heard before, a recording both bizarre and ultraprescient. Badfoot Brown and the Bunions Bradford Funeral & Marching Band is one of a handful of noncomedy records credited to Bill Cosby over his long career--some of the others were cut with Quincy Jones and with Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band--and it originally came out on UNI back in 1971.

I remember hearing a mediocre straight-ahead jazz record from Cosby in the late 80s, but it didn't prepare me for this--Badfoot Brown has taken my head off. I know that some serious heads have long sworn by this joint, and I was aware it had been sampled plenty of times, but it had never crossed my radar until I heard it playing in Dusty Groove not so long ago.

The album credits Cosby with writing, producing, and performing the music "with help from assorted mysterious musicians" (he plays electric piano himself), and in his own liner notes he cites the electric work of Miles Davis (which was then contemporary) as a key influence. You can definitely hear the groove-intensive jams of electric Miles in these two side-length instrumental tracks, but this is no wan imitation--or if it was, time has ripened it beautifully, so that it's no longer possible to tell.

"Martin's Funeral" is the track I first heard, and it made me think of an early masterpiece by DJ Shadow, except it was much stranger, a kind of avant-garde trip-hop (except better than such a silly genre name could ever imply). It almost sounds like two different albums playing simultaneously, and the way it overlaps rhythms, melodic lines, and off-kilter harmonies certainly supports Cosby's claim that he was digging those organic, free-form, episodic Miles classics. "Hybish Shybish" is even odder, dipping into sonic darkness, but its appealing murk is periodically interrupted by a fierce, chugging groove. For 20 minutes the piece keeps cycling through these two patterns, with new and shifting details emerging with each pass.

Today's playlist:

Frank Denyer, Music for Shakuhachi (Another Timbre)
Ana Moura, Para Além da Saudade (World Village)
Carlton Patterson & King Tubby, Black & White in Dub (Hot Pot)
Dislocation Dance, Music Music Music/Slip That Disc! (LTM)
Franco Battiato, Melle Le "Gladiator" (BMG, Italy)

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