The phrase "your opinion of this album may depend on what you think of TV theme music" is generally not meant as praise.
But this "long-lost" collection of funk-jazz written by Jones and Cosby bears no resemblance to the syrupy soundtracks of modern shows like "The West Wing" and "Law And Order." Instead it offers up a collaboration of various big-name jazz players in a casual and free-spirited, if uneven, set of studio jams. Most of the time it seems like the players are just having fun and, by association, listeners get a chance to do the same.
The linear notes state the recordings are from jams preceding work sessions for "The Bill Cosby Show," which aired during the late 1960s and early '70s. Most weren't intended for release, the notes claim, as a way of explaining away rough edges in sound quality and composition.
Bassist and bandleader Ray Brown is the consistent anchor for most of the album, but it's the various collection of notables who steal the show with contributions at various points. Pianist Les McCann, sax man Ernie Watts, and guitarist Arthur Adams get a seriously enjoyable bit of soul going on "Groovy Gravy," laying down those fun 'n' funky solos that better players were always working within the minimalist chord schemes of the era. Those put off by Tom Scott's rather empty sax work on his fusion albums may be surprised to hear him display legit chops on "Toe Jam." Jimmy Smith offers a brief but tasty bit of his Hammond B3 on the interlude "Jimmy Cookin' On Top." For someone looking for nothing more than a nice sampler disc of artists of the times, this is a great pick.
In true TV fashion, the weakness of this album is the early materialcall it the pilotwhich sets a standard that doesn't last. The too-laid-back playing of Joe Sample and Monty Alexander on "Monty, Is That You?" feels like lightweight background funk intended to not draw away attention from visual action, and "The Drawing Room" isn't much more than a minute-long throwaway change-of-pace contribution by an unknown violinist.
Jones and Cosby don't actually perform, save for Cosby contributing improvised vocals on a reprise of the show's theme, "Hikky-Burr," at the end of the album. Hearing the star do his rather rambling thing is an entertaining noveltyand certainly beats listening to William Shatner's "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds," at least artisticallybut it's probably best it's limited to this track and a remixed version that closes out the album.
Those tempted by the album's performers or premise will likely be satisfied, as will listeners looking for a bit of whimsey from the era. Hard-core fans of the artists and times won't find this a pinnacle of achievement by any means, but if they're that serious in their demands for perfection, they probably won't enjoy the concept anyway.
Track Listing: 1) Hikky-Burr; 2) Groovy Gravy; 3) Oh Happy Day; 4) Jimmy Cookin' On Top; 5) Toe Jam; 6) Jive Den; 7)
Eubie Walkin'; 8) Monty, Is That You?; 9) The Drawing Room; 10) Hikky-Burr (reprise); 11) Hikky-Burr
(remix by Mix Master Mike)
Personnel: Eddie Harris, tenor sax (1, 10, 11); Marvin Stamm, trumpet (1); Milt Jackson, vibes (1, 3); Arthur Adams,
guitar (1, 2, 7, 10, 11); Joe Sample, keyboards (1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11); Ray Brown, bass (1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7,
8); John Guerin, drums (1, 2); Les McMann, piano (2); Jimmy Smith, Hammond B3 (4); Tom Scott,
soprano sax (5); Ernie Watts, tenor sax (7); Monty Alexander, keyboard, piano (7, 8); Paul Humphrey,
drums (3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11); Victor Feldman, vibes (5); Jimmy Cleveland, trombone (6); Clare Fisher,
Fender Rhodes and piano (6, 9); Carol Kaye, bass (10, 11); Bill Cosby, vocals (10, 11).