[Review] Herbie Hancock: Fat Albert Rotunda (1970)

Herbie cooks up a soulful, funky score for Bill Cosby’s animated, abdominous alter ego.

Kronomyth 9.0: In a soulful way.

After the electric In A Silent Way, Herbie Hancock scored the soundtrack to an animated feature based on Bill Cosby’s Fat Albert character (Hey, Hey, Hey, It’s Fat Albert) and used that material to create Fat Albert Rotunda. The record is a radical departure from Hancock’s solo work so far, representing a new fusion of soul and jazz that aligns with the first wave of funk. And yet, Hancock’s style has always had a strong rhythmic quality to it, from the earliest days of “Watermelon Man” through “Cantaloupe Island,” so the stylistic change is in many ways a natural evolution for him.

But where Empyrean Isles was an intellectual album, Fat Albert Rotunda is music you feel. It gets under your skin, gets your foot tapping and excites all of your senses. The funky bass lines from Buster Williams, the rhythmic guitar of Eric Gale (uncredited on the original elpee) and the rest of the band eschew the subtle nuances of jazz for the sweaty charisma of James Brown, and the result is instant gratification. You had to work on some level to appreciate Miles Davis; enjoying Fat Albert Rotunda is child’s play by comparison.

At the center of his soul record, Hancock places two traditional jazz songs: “Tell Me A Bedtime Story” and “Jessica.” They’re lovely islands in a sea of rhythmic frenzy, similar to his earlier work and yet somehow more direct and transparent. I can see where jazz purists might argue that Fat Albert Rotunda has dumbed down Hancock’s music for the masses, but what I hear is an explosion of creativity and energy. From this point forward, Hancock would become the great alchemist of jazz and funk, carrying the electric experiment of Miles into undiscovered regions of sound.

Original elpee version

A1. Wiggle-Waggle (5:48)
A2. Fat Mama (3:45)
A3. Tell Me A Bedtime Story (5:00)
A4. Oh! Oh! Here He Comes (4:05)
B1. Jessica (4:11)
B2. Fat Albert Rotunda (6:27)
B3. Lil’ Brother (4:25)

All selections written, arranged and conducted by Herbie Hancock.

The Players

Herbie Hancock (piano, electric piano), Garnet Brown (trombone), Johnny Coles (trumpet, fluegel horn), Tootie Heath (drums), Joe Henderson (alto flute, tenor sax), Buster Williams (acoustic bass, electric bass) with Billy Butler (guitar), Arthur Clarke (baritone saxophone), Joe Farrell (tenor sax, alto sax), Eric Gale (electric guitar), Jerry Jermott (electric bass), Joe Newman (trumpet), Benny Powell (trombone), Bernard Purdie (drums), Ernie Royal (trumpet). Produced by Herbie Hancock; engineered by Rudy Van Gelder.

The Pictures

Liner photo by Syrell Sapoznick. Art direction by Ed Thrasher.

The Plastic

Released on elpee in June 1970 in the US (Warner Bros./Seven Arts, ST093172). Reached #15 on the US Jazz charts.

  1. Re-issued on elpee in 1974 in the US (Warner Bros., WS 1834) and the UK (Warner Bros., K46039).
  2. Re-released on remastered compact disc on August 12, 1994 in the UK (Warner Bros.).
  3. Re-issued on remastered compact disc on September 26, 2007 in Japan (Warner, WPCR-12751).
  4. Re-issued on remastered compact disc on September 12, 2012 in Japan (Warner, WPCR-27155).

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