May 07, 1990 12:00 PM

Bill Cosby and Friends

Growing up in Philadelphia, Cosby fantasized about becoming the world’s greatest jazz drummer and eventually landed a few gigs with such performers as Jimmy Smith, Richard “Groove” Holmes and Shirley Smith. In 1968, mostly as a lark, he produced a vanity jazz record with a group he called Bunions Bradford Brown Marching and Funeral Band.

Where You Lay Your Head marks the return of Cosby as Bunions Bradford, the world’s richest jazzbo. But this time he has made a jazz instrumental album that is more than just respectable; it is pretty damned good.

Wisely, the Cos limits his own instrumental participation on Where You Lay Your Head to some ornamental percussion work. But this is unmistakably a Cosby record. The tunes, composed by Cosby and arranged by Stu Gardner, range from the deep-fried finger-licking blues of “Ursalina” to the hard-edge impressionism of “Why Is It I Can Never Find Anything in the Closet (It’s Long but It’s Alright).” And as bandleader and producer, Cosby successfully directs varied combinations of master improvisers through a studio session that is a bit meandering and loosely focused at times but has the energetic feeling of a live club date.

Drummers Al Foster and Jack DeJohnette and eight-string bass player Mark Egan provide a backdrop of funk and street rhythms for such gifted melodists as pianists Harold “Will Burn” Mabern and Sonny Bravo, guitarists John Scofield and Sonny Sharrock, and saxophonists Odean Pope and David Murray.

Open-minded listeners who are ready to accept Cosby in yet another of his pop-culture incarnations will delight in the shifting rhythms and layered harmonic abstractions. Way to go, Bunions. This album proves you’re a real stand-up guy. (Verve)

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