Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Bill Cosby Presents Badfoot Brown and the Bunions Bradford Funeral Marching Band (Sussex, 1972)
Bill Cosby's name elicits both reverence and revulsion. If you're a Gen Xer like me, you probably grew up knowing him as Dr. Cliff Huxtable on the overly-ingratiating Cosby Show sitcom and as the dude on those Jell-O Pudding Pops commercials from the 1980s. If not for the Fat Albert Saturday-morning cartoon, I probably would have had no interest in him whatsoever. The superb music that was featured on that show (its theme song features one of the greatest bass lines of all time) first gave me an indication that he had a more interesting side. Indeed, if one exercises selectivity, evidence of the man's genius can be found in his numerous television, cinematic, and musical projects from the 1960s and 1970s.
Among his most obscure creations was the funk-jazz fusion outfit Badfoot Brown and the Bunions Bradford Funeral Marching Band. That they recorded even one LP, an excellent Bitches Brew-like album from 1971 on Uni (where their name includes a "&" between "Funeral" and "Marching"), with the Cos playing respectable keyboards, is a pretty weird proposition. I've seen it around in the blogosphere, and to those who enjoy progressive grooves from that era, I strongly recommend seeking it out. More amazing, however, is the existence of a second recording, Bill Cosby Presents Badfoot Brown and the Bunions Bradford Funeral Marching Band (with no "&"), released the following year on the Sussex label. As the "Presents" in the title suggests, Cosby does not perform on the album, but still plays an active role in the proceedings as composer, arranger, and producer.
The impressive cast of musicians on this record includes Mel Brown on guitar, Walter Bishop on piano, Stu Gardner on organ and occasional vocals, Big Black on congas, Bobo Thomas on timbales, George Bohanon on trombone, Joe Henderson on saxophone, Monk Montgomery on bass, Stix Hooper on drums, and many, many more. Compared to the first Badfoot Brown album, this followup displays a heavier vibe with more of an emphasis on funk over fusion. Nevertheless, with personnel like this, these five primarily instrumental performances can't help but possess an advanced, improvisatory quality as well. If I ever directed a Blaxploitation film, I would definitely find a way to include the wickedly rhythmic "Bunions" on the soundtrack, that's for sure. At almost a quarter-hour in length, "The Blues" is a bit excessive, although it still includes some fine passages, especially when the guitars and horns really kick in around the eight-minute mark. "I Love You Camille" is a dreamy, majestic piece dedicated to Cosby's wife, while the intense anti-drug epic "Abuse" pounds as furiously as anything Funkadelic was doing around the same time, with tremendous fuzz and wah-wah guitar that would make even Eddie Hazel envious. "Mouth of the Fish" is similarly dynamic and includes some equally impressive fretwork.
2. The Blues
3. I Love You Camille
5. Mouth of the Fish