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Musically, as he seemed to be in life, Buddy Rich was practically bulletproof. For that reason, Lightyear's recent release of this 1978 performance is really beyond criticism, and for Rich fans, a newly issued live recording is cause for celebration. Regardless, this set is as representative of the power and authority of the drummer and his band in prime form as anything else in his catalog.
The level of performance Rich demanded of his bands and himself is legendary, so it's expected that the performances captured here would be impossibly strong, and they most certainly are, yet No Funny Hats stands out amongst the other mid/late-'70s BR band recordings. A particularly tight ensemble, a thematically well-balanced set, and excellent recording quality are the reasons. That last attribute is certainly a welcome aspect not often expected from live recordings of "vintage performances issued on minor labels.
As might be expected, the setlist highlights the jazz/funk approach that the Rich band was known for in the '70s, and Rich associates Steve Marcus (tenor and soprano saxophones), Andy Fusco (alto saxophone), and Bob Kay (piano) are all in able attendance. Marcus in particular is in fine form, his wide-ranging near-Dolphyisms punctuating through the bass drum bombs on Kay's bluesy "Grand Concourse and his soprano careening effortlessly through Bob Mintzer's "Slow Funk, both Rich band staples.
Kay's lyricism adds additional contrast in the lone "trio" tunethe understated (but sprightly) reading of "Someday My Prince Will Come, which also features some wonderfully subtle brushwork by the leader and a lithe electric bass solo by Tom Warrington. The set ends, inevitably, with "West Side Story. Buddy Rich and crew predictably blow the doors down, though the certain calculation to the closer doesn't make the result any less jaw dropping. Throughout, Rich is Richno compromises, pushing relentlessly and explosively.
Why No Funny Hats is just surfacing now is a mystery. At the least it represents a welcome addition to the Buddy Rich canon, but clearly it also stands as a testament to a fine band and a leader still in peak form. Recommended.
Track Listing: Intro; Grand Concourse; Bugle Call Rag; Tales of Rhoda Rat; Slow Funk; Someday My Prince Will Come; West Side Story
Personnel: Andy Fusco: Sax (Alto); Bill Holman: Arranger; Dave Kennedy: Trumpet; Dale Kirkland: Trombone; Steve Marcus: Sax (Tenor, Soprano); John Marshall: Trumpet; Bob Mintzer: Arranger; John Mosca: Trombone; Darren Newitt: Cover Design; Gary Pribeck: Sax (Tenor); Bill Reddie: Arranger; Buddy Rich: Drums, Leader; Cathie Rich: Liner Notes; Paul Salvo: Trumpet; Chuck Schmidt: Trumpet; Greg "Frosty" Smith: Sax (Baritone); Tom Warrington: Bass; Chuck Wilson: Sax (Alto)