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Todd Cochran explores ‘Worlds Around the Sun’ (Omnivore Recordings)

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Todd Cochran Bayete's "Worlds Around the Sun"

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Composer, pianist and keyboard player Todd Cochran was a twenty-year old prodigy performing and recording in the San Francisco Bay area when his debut album “Worlds Around the Sun” came out in 1972. Working under the Zulu-African name Bayeté, Cochran wrote, arranged and produced all the music and played every piano and keyboard part; guest musicians inhabiting his “Worlds” featured vibes ace Bobby Hutcherson, most likely returning the favor for all the music Cochran wrote for an album Hutcherson put out the year before (“Head On,” Blue Note).

Released on the jazz label Prestige Records, “Worlds Around the Sun” topped the RecordWorld jazz sales charts AND DownBeat critics charts, bumping even Miles Davis’ funk marathon “On the Corner” down to second place. But after another Prestige album the following year (“Seeking Other Beauty”), Bayeté’s unique voice fell silent until, four decades later, Omnivore Records reissued “Worlds Around the Sun” on CD in 2014. This reissue features two previously unreleased tracks and instantly trips back to the heady, heavy progressive music of the 1970s, when the only rule seemed to be “there are no rules.”

‘I’m On It’ swivels on its drums and keyboard hook, thumping out jazz funk like Davis, the Blackbyrds, Sly Stone and others were simultaneously exploring. Cochran’s keyboard playing on “Worlds Around the Sun” often seems to orbit around pianist Herbie Hancock (who in the early 1970s took on the African name Mwandishi), especially his acoustic piano in “It Ain’t” and the meditative ‘Njeri (Belonging to a warrior),’ and electric in ‘Eurus (The southeast wind).’

‘Shine the Knock’, one of the two bonus tracks, is a great example of the 45-50 minute limitation of “long-playing” vinyl albums (LPs) for this can be the only reason why this dynamic, colorfully electric jam was unreleased. The rhythm section rocks so hard that their sprawling fury overruns the tune’s melody and sound while trumpets blast out notes like molten bullets; the rhythm starts to throb then rock back against itself about six minutes deep, and the ensemble sound begins to really seethe and bubble like one of Miles Davis’ hot electric jungle bands.

After "Worlds Around the Sun," Cochran would go onto record and perform with Peter Gabriel, Stanley Clarke and many others. “The passage I was to take began with this album,” Cochran now explains. “International influences; acknowledging, embracing and celebrating the variations of diaspora; seeking the connections of humanity through musical expression – all was activated with this collection of music.”

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