Bill Cosby has worn many hats in his decades-spanning career, but the one that will probably come as the biggest surprise is that of a jazz maestro. Certainly, he never played an instrument (to the best of my knowledge), and he’s hardly going to be remembered in the same breath as Miles or ‘Trane. But he was still the inspiration for an odd collection of jazz performances recorded for The Bill Cosby Show in 1969. Produced by Quincy Jones, the pieces were nearly forgotten until Q unearthed them last year. These sessions were finally made available on Concord’s The Original Jam Sessions 1969, released in June of last year. This disc of remixes was released a month later.
Not all remix albums are created equal, and a great deal of the success or failure of any specific project has to depend on the quality of the given source material. With no slight intended to the fine musicians who participated in the original recordings back in 1969—all of whom are resolutely competent and immaculately well credentialed—these pieces hardly present a deft challenge to the remixers. Certainly, you can imagine the producers involved with the Verve Remixed discs sweating bullets over the thought of doing wrong by Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald, but these tracks are much more modest affairs. There’s some nice funky jazz herein, and it’s consistently pleasant, but you hardly get the feeling at any point that anyone involved is really stretching. One of the original tracks is even included as a bonus: “Hikky-Burr”, a fusion-influenced piece of late ‘60s funk featuring some strange scatting by Cosby. It’s a nice track, but resolutely tame as these things go.
It’s no surprise that one of the best remixes is the Matthew Herbert mix, which turns the jazzy spare parts of an unidentified track into a stuttering kaleidoscope of strange circus noises and odd rhythmical emphasis. It’s got a gravity that somehow manages to evoke the original source material’s wit while remaining steadfastly dedicated to his unique jazz sensibilities.
Los Amigos Invisibles deliver a strong Latin house rub of “Jimmy’s Theme” which attempts to fuse the light-hearted jazz elements with a sultrier house sensibility. It doesn’t quite succeed in surpassing the steadfast weightlessness of the source material, but it does a good job of trying.
Cornershop infuses “Valeurs Personelles” with a slight Indian touch, bringing to mind the slightly bizarre soundtrack music of the same period. Bedrock (John Digweed & Nick Muir) surprised the heck out of me by not offering one of their standard progressive house mixes, but instead presenting a rather interesting bit of psychedelic acid jazz in the form of their mix of “Glimmer”. This mix probably takes the farthest deviation from the source material, and their gamble pays off with a uniquely interesting and uncharacteristically meditative mix. Echo’s mix of “Where’s Eddie?” takes the track into the direction of breaks, with interesting, if slightly torpid results.
Soulive deliver with a predictably catchy reinterpretation of “Miss Leslie” that showcases their particular talent for modal improvisation offset against a funky beat. But again, there’s nothing that really stands out about this or any of these remixes: the source material is sedate and modest, and consequently, so are these remixes. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the end result is a disc that is far more tasteful than dramatic.