“Now, Cos, he likes the JAZZZZZ, y’see? When the drummer goes ‘rip bop slabbada doongk paah shank-a klook-a-mop,’ and the BASS . . . is goin’ ‘buh-doom bup doom bop-a doong bop diddly-doom’ and the TRUMP’T . . is like ‘wuuAAAAAAHH’ . . . So, he took these ol’ tapes, y’see? And he gave them to a bunch a the young . . . PEOPLE . . . you know, with the pants down to here, and the hats on backwards, and the shoes on sideways, and he told them, ‘MAKE . . . a new RECORD . . . outta these SONGS!’ So they went into their studios, and the started framzin’ with the knobs and frippin’ with the slider things and they took this part of that song and that part of this song, y’see, and then they took the drummer goin’ ‘doon doon PANG chuck-a-log-a GUGGA-doon’ and the keyboards goin’ ‘deet-deet-DEE-d’deet-d’deet’ and pretty soon even ol’ Cos couldn’t recognize his songs anymore . . . but it was cool.”
And hey, it is cool. Concord Records recently released two albums’ worth of ultra-rare music recorded for Bill Cosby’s 1969-1971 NBC variety show. Sort of. I mean, they’ve definitely released the two albums. It’s just that one of them is full of jam sessions that grew out of the music for Cos’ show, and the other is an ambitious remix/remake album featuring some of the underground’s better-regarded musical soda jerks.
First, the old stuff: The Original Jam Sessions 1969 features 11 recordings of 8 Bill Cosby/Quincy Jones originals, plus the Edwin Hawkins classic “Oh Happy Day.” All this music was recorded for the aforementioned variety show, but most of it has been sitting around unheard since about 1971 or so. The musicians are mostly LA-studio first-call types (with Milt Jackson’s always-tasty vibes playing thrown in for good measure), and the sound is everything you’d expect from late-60s soul-jazz: Fender Rhodes, wocka-wocka guitar, pingy-sounding drums, and the absolute groove of death. Even if nobody on the entire album goes too far out with a solo, the overall vibe is just so cool, it’ll have you writing movie screenplays just so you can find a use for the music. I’m not sure I really needed three versions of “Hikky-Burr” (the theme song for the show), but that’s a small quibble.
A larger one is that some of this music sounds an awful lot like production music. You either love the stuff or you don’t (I love it), but it’s perhaps not as “jammy” as the title might have you believe. Still, it’s nearly an hour of killer jazz-funk, and it’s a good bet you’ve never heard most of it before.
Now, we all know that some of the great music of the 60s and 70s has become source material for all sorts of creative souls who spin the most wonderful remixes, and Concord let a diverse crew have at this Cosby/Jones material to see what they could do with it. That’s what The New Mixes is all about.
This isn’t really your standard remix album–most of those involved just borrowed bits and pieces from the jam sessions and built entirely new songs out of them. While the album suffers from a little bit too much sound-alikeism, there are some sparkling tracks here. Los Amigos Invisibles’ contribution “Pelando” is the only track here which truly swings–drummer Juan Manuel Roura and bassist José Rafael Torres are the most locked-together rhythm section this side of Billy Martin and Chris Wood. Herbert creates the most freaked-out track here, the totally recombinant “(Matthew Herbert’s) Technically Amateur Mix”, which sounds like Bill Cosby’s infamous “trifocals” routine set to music. Cornershop tries to go Air/Dmitri From Paris on “Valeurs Personelles” with reasonable results. Bedrock soaks up plenty of Bags on their track “Glimmer.” Most of the rest of the tracks are good, if a bit anonymous. This was an interesting, creative project.
But in the long run, I think I like the original jam sessions better. Nothing against today’s CRTL-x/CRTL-v artists, but nothing will ever substitute for the interactions of live musicians. The Jam Sessions could certainly swing harder and sound better (some of the mixes are a bit odd), but still, it’s JAZZZZZZZ, y’see . . .