For a long time this album was only available at collector's fairs (on vinyl, and costly) or as part of a triple-album CD compilation (along with Mwandishi and Crossings). To finally be able to buy, and at a bargain price, one of the greatest albums ever made (I almost said 'in the seventies') is a blessed relief. Why oh why did it take Warner so long to get this one out again on it's own?
This album is not as cleanly recorded as Headhunters, but the saturated and slightly distorted deep-fried funk is so greasy that even digital sanitising has been unable to clean up these artery-clogging grooves. Most of the tunes are rambling bluesy fonk, over which various jazz maestros give their chops a work-out worthy of an olympic athlete choc-full of peformance enhancing pharmaceuticals. Wonderful layers of brass, flutes and reeds elevate these pieces to a truly godlike level of excellence.
'Tell Me a Bedtime Story' is something else, the album is worth the price for this track alone. Have no fear though, every single track is superb, there's not one duffer! 'Bedtime Story' (along with the very mellow 'Jessica'), stands out from the rest by simple virtue of not being a monstrosity of funk, leaning more to Herbie's jazz side. It's the most heavily arranged piece, with beautiful flute harmonies that build towards heavier, brassier sections. Also worthy of note are the elastic funk - for a fabulous example, check out 'Wiggle Waggle' - of Albert 'Tootie' Heath's drum beats, in which the fluidity and lightness of touch of jazz improvisation meets the down-home grits and gravy of r'n'b: brilliant!
For those who, like myself, enjoy the mellifluous tones of the Rhodes, Hammond et al, phat brass, and chuck-a-wah guitar in generous doses, this album is a must. Far earthier and more robust than Head Hunters,Thrust, etc., yet also far groovier than the outre jazz-noodling of Mwandishi or Crossings, Fat Albert straddles Herbie's middle way, just as it also sits 'twixt the fantastic Blue Note era recordings, and his later and more electric sound (the perhaps musically less interesting disco-funk of the late seventies and early eighties). Many producers, musicians, and DJ's, have dipped into Fat Albert's generously stocked refrigerator to enhance their own dubious cred'. Tunes like 'Wiggle-Waggle' and 'Lil' Brother' should get folks dancing even if they're clinically dead, but will also propel the serious sofa-surfer on a sassy hip-swaying, head nodding, wiggle-waggling, stride through the sun-drenched streets of an imaginary San Fran, man.
Those with a penchant for liner notes and personnel listings will be dissappointed by the lack of any such info, in the place of which we are given some poetic ramblings of debatable merit. There's also nothing about the history of the album (I believe it came about via music commissioned for a Bill Cosby TV show, which featured the animated adventures of 'Fat Albert'), but you do at least get a reproduction of the lovely original cover art. However, the reason I bought this album was to bathe in gallons of life-giving fonk, the true essence of man. And so, my good friend, that is what I recommend you do!
Herbie Hancock hit the big time with his Headhunters funk-jazz album in 1973 but he had made earlier attempts to incorprate funk and soul into his music. In contrast to the jazz-funk and layered synthesisers of Headhunters the tracks here are more influenced by R&B and Soul: a horn section is used and Herbie plays electric piano. There is still a strong jazz influence on the album that comes through on tracks such as Tell me a bedtime story and Jessica, whilst players such as Joe Henderson and Johnny Coles lay down some great solo's. However, the rest of the tracks are great soul/funk workouts with titles such as Wiggle-waggle, Fat mama etc. Although the liner notes don't mention it 'All music guide' states that Bernard Purdie, Eric Gale and extra horn players appear on some tracks. I would tend to concur as Wiggle-waggle and Lil Brother definately have Purdie's distictive drumming on them. Overall a fantastic and contagious album.
I've had this album less than a week and already I am enslaved to it! This is serious, butt-shakin' funk. Two of the tunes immediately caught my ear when I listened to the 1-minute excepts on the Amazon website ("Wiggle-Waggle" and "Oh! Oh! Here He Comes") and, believe me, the full versions deliver all that they promise! The music was originally written as the theme music to a cartoon series by Bill Cosby, but the tunes are so strong that they merited release as an album in thier own right. Some of the more up-tempo tracks remind me of the funkier side of Aretha Franklin with their tight brass section arrangements and solid backing from the rhythm section. The slower numbers don't vie for attention as much as the other tracks but they do grow on you, and you'll soon find yourself humming those too. For the main part, though, it is funk of the highest quality. If you've heard Herbie's "Head Hunters" and "Thrust" and loved them (or even if you liked it but were maybe slightly put off by the heavy use of synthesisers) then I'd give this a listen -the only thing electrical which he plays on this record is the Fender-Rhodes keyboard. This was the first time he recorded with the instrument, I think, but already you can hear how at home he is with it - his solo on "Wiggle-Waggle" will have dancing around like nobody's business! The only complaint I have about this album is that it wasn't reissued sooner. Up until very recently the music was only available on a CD which brings together this and the other two recordings which Herbie made for Warner Bros between '69 and '72 ("Mwandishi" and "Crossings") but the music featured on this disc is very different from that on the other two indeed (these two are, in fact, reminiscent of Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew"), so there's a lot to be said in favour of approaching the albums individually. This one comes highly recommended.
For the most part these are catchy, lightweight tunes in the Ramsey Lewis vein - redolent of that funky filler music in early 70's US detective shows. Pleasant enough but hardly the stuff of legend. A stepping stone shall we say....