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TV Reviews : ‘New Visions Jazz’ Features Bill Cosby’s Group

The latest edition of the “New Visions Jazz” series on VH-1, airing at 8 tonight, is the first of two 55-minute segments devoted mainly to Bill Cosby’s new venture as a jazz producer.

With Ben Sidran as host, the program switches back and forth between performances by Cosby’s group, a couple of Sidran-Cosby dialogues, and clips by other bands. Among the latter are a super-busy performance by Branford Marsalis, on soprano saxophone; Miles Davis, in a medley from his own “Tutu” album, and a very grainy black-and-white item by Duke Ellington playing “Perdido.”

Cosby’s own musicians--David Murray on tenor sax, Don Pullen on piano, Sonny Sharrock on guitar, Mark Egan on bass and Al Foster on drums--play the Miles Davis standard “All Blues” and a long, single-chord vamp in G entitled “Ursalina.” It’s all strongly funk-oriented, the kind of music more likely to appeal to young listeners who are into R&B; than to older folks who regularly watch the Huxtables.

In addition to acting as a sort of cheerleader, looking entranced, saying “Yeah!” and cuing the band to stop, Cosby talks about the intensity and emotion involved. Jazz, he says, is like comedy: Robin Williams and Eddie Murphy are “talking musicians.” The analogy may be a little hard to follow, but Cosby is obviously sincere, and Sidran is duly deferential, comparing him to Miles Davis.

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The best spoken moment is Cosby’s opening greeting to the diminutive Sidran, to whom he says: “Hey, you’re taller than I thought.” Jazz may not be like comedy, but some jazz aficionados sure have a way with a quip.


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