2 LPs on 1 CD: CITY LIFE (1975)/UNFINISHED BUSINESS (1976).
Personnel: The Blackbyrds (vocals); Kenny Moore, Mildred Lane, Jim Gilstrap, Jerry Spikes, Bill Medford, John Lehman, Alex Brown, Myrna Matthews, Marti McCall, Charlie Barnett (vocals); Orville Saunders, Ray Parker, Jr. (guitar); Stephen Johnson, Wesley Jackson (flute, saxophone); Jackie Kelso, The Block Boy Orchestra, William Green (flute, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone); Ernie Watts (flute); Tommy Morgan (harmonica); Chuck Findley, Gary Grant, Nolan Smith, Steve Madaio (trumpet, flugelhorn); Marilyn Robinson, Vince DeRosa, Alan Robinson (French horn); George Bohanon, Charles Loper (trombone); Lew McCreary (bass trombone); Kevin Toney (keyboards); Keith Killgo (drums).
Audio Remixer: Jim Nipar.
Photographer: Gerald Panopoulos.
Arranger: Wade Marcus.
This reissue combines two of the Blackbyrds' classic albums, City Life from 1975 and Unfinished Business from 1976, on a single 74-minute CD. To be sure, "classic" isn't a word that many jazz purists have used to describe the albums -- when Donald Byrd produced them, bop's hard-liners were denouncing the Clifford Brown-influenced trumpeter as a shameless sellout and insisting that he should have stuck to straight-ahead acoustic jazz. But then, the Blackbyrds weren't going after jazz purists -- their music was soul, funk, and disco with jazz overtones, and the people who bought their albums were more likely to be into Earth, Wind & Fire and Tower of Power than Sonny Stitt or Art Blakey. Unlike Stevie Wonder, Gil Scott-Heron, Marvin Gaye, the O'Jays, and Curtis Mayfield, the Blackbyrds didn't get into a lot of heavy sociopolitical messages; their forte was party music, and it is that escapist, feel-good mindset that defines the infectious hits "Happy Music" and "Rock Creek Park" (both from City Life) as well as memorable album tracks such as the mellow "Love So Fine" from City Life and the insistently funky "Party Land" from Unfinished Business. Calling this music escapist isn't saying that it's faceless or mechanical -- far from it. The Blackbyrds' party-time lyrics may not have been challenging, but musically, the band was creative, risk-taking, and distinctive. Even though they were primarily a soul/funk/disco outfit, the Blackbyrds came from jazz backgrounds -- and that jazz influence often works to their creative advantage on this excellent reissue. ~ Alex Henderson