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April 8, 2006

Donald Byrd – Ethiopian Knights

Donald Byrd - Ethiopian Knights

(Blue Note, 1972)

A lot of People ask me where they should start digging, some names to look out for or whatever; “show me some dope shit Gaff” “I don’t know what has breaks” etc. So here we go, each issue I’m going to show you a dope record from my collection that you may come across and that you should buy by all means necessary (whether you’re a producer, dj, music lover, or looking for some new sounds just beyond the hip-hop spectrum to get into). Of all the popular categories, people seem dumbfounded when it comes to jazz breaks, so I’m going to start out with this record.

I would say that Donald Byrd’s Ethiopian Knights album, recorded over two days in late August, 1971, is one of the illest records you will ever see. There is no marketable, catchy song on this; it was strictly for the young generation of street cats. You will find only 3 songs on this album; “The Emperor,” which is over 15 minutes long, and to round out side one, “Jamie,” only 4 minutes. Side 2 is one long ass jam called “The Little Rasti” which is almost 18 minutes long. That’s it. Nothing made for the radio, nothing for the Jazz Fanatics at the time, just Ghetto Funk. Ike Turner and Boris Gardner both had songs called “Ghetto Funk”, and while Ike’s sounds ghetto, and Boris’ is funky this album should be the definition of Ghetto Jazz Funk. It says on the back cover that all the songs were composed by Byrd himself, although, in a recent interview Larry Mizell says he helped out on this, very likely, adding that particular “Mizell funk” sound to the two long jams.

To start out the album comes Wilton Felder’s (of the Crusaders) Bass on the track “the Emperor,” so dope a real hip hop head needs to sample it to be rapped over. Recently DJ Cam did a “remix” of the song on a Blue Note revisited album, but anyone could flip that bass, and it’s still never been rapped over that I know of. In the sound clip I play only the beginning of this song (the first minute), but all the players just take turns soloing over the whole beat, steady 4/4 rhythm all the way through. I didn’t include “Jamie” in the sound clip, but as “The Emperor” winds down, the 2 songs mix together and I find “Jamie” more of an outro that mellows you out after being sonically smoked in the face by the previous track. And if you’re still in the mood for more of what you heard on side 1, it gets even badder for Side 2.

“The Little Rasti” starts out with some drum hits and percussion for over a minute before kicking into a nasty break by drummer Edward Greene. Matter of fact, light up some green for this track and kick back because that’s probably what was going on at this session, and a “Little Rasti” that doesn’t smoke trees has only a couple years to go before he does. So really, why hasn’t anybody just straight looped this beat? On the sound clip I cut the break back in again so you can hear how ill that bass comes over top of the drums, so “ghetto serious” it makes one wonder “what’s the deal with this little Rasti anyways?” The song has a dark feel to it, these dudes are getting DOWN, and after everyone gets a turn (I edited the soundclip forward’s to William Henderson the 3rd’s piano just for some freshness) the song takes an outro with Byrd, Greene, and Felder taking you back to your crib after this look into what their vibe is all about in the early 70’s. “Yo guys, thanks for the head trip!” it’s intense. This album was produced by George Butler, who must’ve been thinking “how the hell am I going to market this?” the whole time. On the back cover is a poem by Bill Quinn, an Instructor at Howard University who worked under Byrd in the Dept. of Jazz Studies there, called; “THE MUSIC”, which to me, REALLY describes the music with lines like:

“The music puts brass on his knuckles
As he wails on those chumps cheeks
But afterwhile it gets hard to hit ’em
‘Cause all he can see is brown smileyes
And the red line in that goddamned budweiser sign”

That’s gangsta.

Once you cop this record you will find that while you may not always be in the mood for it, it makes a mood for you, and is perfect for playing both sides straight through.

The Gaff’s 10 other Blue Note records that anyone who is into breaks and beats needs to own (from 10 different lead artists) are:

  1. Lou Donaldson – Hot Dog
  2. Grant Green – Carryin On
  3. Ronnie Foster – Two Headed Freap
  4. Bobbie Humphrey – Blacks and Blues
  5. Horace Silver – Total Response
  6. Lonnie Smith – Move Your Hand
  7. Candidio – Beautiful
  8. Ronnie Laws – Pressure Sensitive
  9. Eddie Henderson – Sunburst
  10. Reuben Wilson – Blue Mode

Some of these guys are really hard to choose, especially Lou, Grant, Lonnie, they have sooo many good records, you really can’t just single out one record, and this was going to be a top 20 list, but I narrowed it down to 10.