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Kimiko Kasai: Butterfly
Hot damn, this is one of the most slept-on, yet stranger, jazz-funk albums of all time.  Slept-on, because the record was only released in Japan, so don't expect to find this in the dollar section. Strange, because all the tunes are covers, putting some stank on the concept of the "jazz standards" album. 

Butterfly is a collaboration between vocalist Kasai and Herbie Hancock, then in the middle of his discofied jazz/funk phase. For support, he brings along his Headhunters, who surprised some by being able to hang while Herbie put more boogie in his bop.  But old hands Bennie Maupin, Bill Summers and Paul Jackson are locked in the groove as tightly as ever.  They are joined by Webster Lewis, Ray Obiedo and Alphonse Mouzon.  Hancock composed all of the material save for "Head in the Clouds" and one song we'll discuss later.

On this exploration of the Hancock songbook, the opening track is her version of "I Thought It Was You," which was debuted only a year earlier.  It does not sound much different from the original upon first listen, but the disco rhythm is more upfront and Kasai's feminine delivery gives the track a lighter, more subtle feel than Herbie's vocoder-dominanted original.  This is the highest-profile tune, having been issued on a couple of extremely obscure (i.e., bootleg) 12-inch singles. 

Hancock chose to remake some of his most popular songs, including the title cut and "Maiden Voyage."  Thankfully for fans of the originals, they don't present drastic re-arrangements of the songs. 

If there is a misstep, it is on the closing song.  Kimiko stays within the album's theme of covers, but someone in her camp must have been feeling confident to end the record with a version of Stevie Wonder's "As."   Nothing particularly wrong here, but this is one of Stevie's most beloved songs and it never sounds quite right when someone else tackles it.  Props for not embarrassing herself though.  

After hearing this record, I have two questions.  First of all, I'd like to know how these tracks escaped the curators of the Mastercuts Jazz Funk series, since their sixth volume was essentially a primer on Japanese jazz-funk for many people.  I'm also curious about the story behind this project.   Were Herbie and Kimiko tight and just kicking it in the studio and pleased with the results?  It's not often that artists will give much love to interpretations of their work, much less perform on them. If someone out there has some inside scoop, please let me know.

In short, producers should find this album intriguing for the sample possibilities while everyone else will find Butterfly worth picking up for its funky grooves.  Hopefully this will be issued in the United States to cut back on those awful Japanese import prices.   

 

 

 

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Released 1979 on Columbia (Japan)

Selected Tracks:

Tell Me A Bedtime Story
I Thought It Was You

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