Category Archives: Miles Davis

The Aura Of Miles Davis: A Story About Miles’ Final Columbia Album

Miles Davis began 1985 having just received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize, which is the highest musical honor in the country of Denmark, in the last month of the previous year. Danish composer Palle Mikkelborg was so inspired by Miles’ achievement that he composed that he decided to compose a suite for him to record. The only major arranger Miles Davis had continually worked with before was Gil Evans. And even later on in their collaborations, Evans wasn’t as fully involved as he’d been when he’d helped to begin Miles’ career as a bandleader with the 1949 album Birth Of The Cool.

The album that came from Mikkelborg and Miles’ collaboration was called Aura. It was recorded early in 1985. Miles Davis was in the process of leaving Columbia for Warner Bros Records at the time. Despite the historic three decade association between Miles and Columbia, Aura wasn’t released until 1989 due to a contractual conflict of interest. It was music of many moods flowing together. It was composed based on notes corresponding to all the initials of Miles Davis’s first and last name. As for the rest of the album, I wrote an Amazon.com 9 years ago that digs deeper into what Aura was and still is.


Miles Davis,just about to leave Columbia records after a lucrative 30 year career with the label turned to Danish composer and musician Palle Mikkelborg to record a ten piece suite in Copenhagen in the late winter of 1985. After a frenetic fusion intro there are nine compositions titled after different colors of the “aura”: white,yellow, orange,red, green, blue,electric red,indigo and violet. Most of these songs,while musically very much in keeping with the early 80’s part of the “electric Miles” period showcase impressionistic “sound paintings” that not only bare a striking resemblance to Miles’ work with Gil Evans on albums like Sketches of Spain at least in terms of arrangement.

The main difference is that on these Miles plays against the melody most the time rather then with it,which while very much in the jazz improvisation tradition gives the music that sense of organized chaos common in Miles’ electric music:the idea melodies and rhythms that are completely different from each other and never coming to a resolution.In this context it could be seen as mixing different shades to make primary colors. The only really funky tune here is “Orange” which is indeed very fiery in nature. “Electric Red” and “Violet” are a slower burning kind of groove whereas “Blue” expresses a light reggae feeling for another musical “color”.

“Indigo” is the only real acoustic piece here. Some of these songs also feature the guitar of John McLaughlin who worked with Miles back in his Bitches Brew days. While the complex,almost ambient nature of ‘Aura’ might qualify elements of this album as off putting and some jazz fans might find some of these songs leaning towards the new age sound it is definitely one of the more unique and individual recordings in Miles’ vast catalog and he has many.


Aura is a true example of why albums matter a lot with instrumental jazz musicians such as Miles. When I first heard it,it was in the form of 30 second previews at a listening station when the remastered CD first came out. It sounded like dull electronic “new age” music in that context. And always avoided it. Upon purchasing the CD later and listening to it, it became clear these were songs that developed in sound and even genre as they went along. In that context,its innovative orchestrated jazz fusion. Therefore I recommend seeking out the Aura album on its own terms-to take in its brilliance.

*Listen to the funkiest song on this album called “Orange” here!

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Bitches Broth: Betty Davis, The Columbia Years, 1968-69

bettydavis1

Betty Davis is, as her ex-husband Miles would undoubtedly have put it, a bad bitch. Her trio of mid-1970s albums–including 1974’s They Say I’m Different, which Andre posted about last summer–constitute some of the rawest, nastiest funk-rock ever released. Imagine prime Tina Turner, but with a heavier rock influence; and what she lacks in vocal prowess, she makes up for with a persona so aggressive, you’d swear she was the one beating up on Ike. If you’re even the slightest fan of powerful women and/or heavy funk, then you need to hear Betty Davis.

That being said, my recommendation for the latest release of Betty Davis’ music, The Columbia Years, 1968-69, is a little more conditional. I received the compilation’s (gorgeous!) vinyl release for Christmas last month, and I love it; it sits proudly on my shelf even as we speak. But I can also understand why it wasn’t officially released until last year.

Comprised of two sessions recorded for Columbia Records in 1968 and 1969–the first produced by trumpeter Hugh Masekela, the second by Betty’s then-husband Miles Davis–The Columbia Years is, if nothing else, a fascinating historical document. For fans of the more famous Davis, it’s effectively ground zero for jazz fusion: the moment Miles hooked up with the circle of acid rockers and funkateers in Betty’s orbit, including Jimi Hendrix sidemen Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell. Without Betty, there would be no Bitches Brew (in more ways than one–that album’s title is said to have referred to Betty and her entourage of countercultural socialities). According to the compilation’s liner notes, Betty’s come-hither purr in her cover of Cream’s “Politician” even ended up inspiring Miles’ song “Back Seat Betty,” a full 12 years after the couple split.

But just as Betty was never “Mrs. Miles Davis,” The Columbia Years is also of interest for reasons beyond its significance in Miles’ body of work. You can hear the seeds of Betty’s own unique stylistic hybrid being planted, as she tries her hand at a version of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Born on the Bayou” heavily indebted to “Stone Free” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience; or even her own composition “Hangin’ Out,” which comes across as a tamer version of later party-girl anthems like “If I’m in Luck I Might Get Picked Up.” For existing devotees, the opportunity to hear her earth-shaking style in embryonic form is priceless.

For newcomers, though, I’m afraid the appeal will be significantly lessened. The fact is, in 1969 Betty Davis didn’t really sound like Betty Davis yet; her vocals are thin, and she hadn’t yet developed the hellion’s rasp that made her voice on later records so distinctive. And, while the personnel on the sessions is impressive–not only Cox and Mitchell, but also John McLaughlin, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and others–the arrangements lack grit and verve; they have the slightly patronizing feel that comes with the territory of crack jazz musicians slumming in “lesser” genres. It’s telling that Davis’ best music would be recorded with players who were funk and rock musicians first: her 1973 debut, for example, featured Santana‘s Neal Schon, Larry Graham, and other members of Graham Central Station and the Family Stone. It’s also telling that her music got better the more she was at the helm: her second and third albums, in 1974 and 1975 respectively, were both self-produced.

So, yes, everyone should listen to Betty Davis; and, since to know Betty Davis is to love her, then sure, eventually everyone should probably listen to The Columbia Years. But if you’re just getting started, don’t start at the beginning. Check out Betty DavisThey Say I’m Different, or Nasty Gal; hell, check out her canned 1976 album Crashin’ from Passion, later reissued as Is It Love or Desire? Then, circle back to The Columbia Years and see how it all began. With records like this being released and a new documentary set to premiere this summer, the time has arguably never been riper to rediscover Betty Davis. I can attest that she’s a discovery well worth making.

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Filed under 1960's, Betty Davis, Columbia Records, funk rock, Graham Central Station, Herbie Hancock, Hugh Masekela, Ike & Tina Turner, Jimi Hendrix, Larry Graham, Miles Davis, Music Reviewing, Sly & The Family Stone, Wayne Shorter

The Cover Story: Sometimes,It Really Was About Races

cover-story

All eight of the late 1950’s to mid 60’s album covers have two things in common. All of them feature white people’s faces on the cover. And all of them are by black artists.  This topic first came to my attention when my father purchased a coffee table book called 1000 Record Covers by former DJ/record company exec Michael Ochs. One section of the book specifically featured a series of album covers by black artists with the faces of white people on them. It even pointed out how,in general in the case of Motown,other albums by black artists featured cartoons on the covers.

Mister Ochs book brought up the reason for this-one I’ve generally accepted as the most prominent truth. During the late 50’s and halfway into the 60’s,the civil rights movement in American was making it clear for the 20th century that black lives did matter. Yet the American South in particular were concerned that albums by black artists would sell better to the area’s more heavily racist population if the artists faces weren’t pictured. This was done in many different ways. The reason why putting white faces on covers stood out so much for me is because it went along with a similar matter of the day: cover songs.

In the 1999 PBS documentary Record Row: The Cradle Of Rhythm & Blues,the topic of white artists covering songs from black artists was brought up. In that docu,the late Jerry Butler and Dick Clark gave counterpoints on the matter. Clark pointed out that most radio stations in the early civil rights era wouldn’t play original versions of songs by black artists. So,for example it was more common to hear Pat Boone’s infamous cover of “Tutti Fruiti” than Little Richard’s original.  Clark contended that this was a big deal over nothing as the original artists eventually got their due.

Jerry Butler’s comment on that issue was that it was easier to feel a personal injury was less severe is one wasn’t experiencing it themselves. He cited the higher levels of sales by white cover versions of R&B/soul songs by black artists. And the economic/racial schisms behind it. So taking all this together,the elimination of a black presence on 50’s and some 60’s R&B/soul/jazz/doo-wop songs and album covers comes across as yet another method by which white Americans subsidize black Americans,their accomplishments and creative innovations.

Is any of this shocking today? In doing research for this article,it would seem this matter is rarely discussed online. Even as part of America’s musical history. There are some personal observations I have about the matter though. Seeing a white infant on the cover of a James Brown album was particularly eyebrow raising. Especially in light of JB asserting he was black and proud eight years after said album was released. As far as the Isley Brothers’ This Old Heart Of Mine? That album came out in 1966,the same year as the founding of Oakland California’s Black Panther Party.

Miles Davis is especially interesting in this case. His autobiography with Quincy Troupe made it clear many times that he resented,as he stated “white people always trying to take credit for what black people did”. I know some who cite Miles as being a reverse racist for saying such things,in fact. He was known to have vocally objected to having a blonde white woman on the original cover for his 1957 release Miles Ahead. This lead him to fight Columbia records for his wife Francis to appear on the cover of his 1960’s album Someday My Prince Will Come. In the end,Miles’ point was entirely reality based.

One topic Henrique Hopkins and I often discuss is the rap segment of Michael Jackson’s song “Black Or White”-where the rapped bridge states “its not about races,its’ about faces/places”-even saying “I’d rather hear both sides of the tale”. As of this writing and the presence of president elect Donald Trump and a strong resistance to the idea that racism is still a problem has me thinking a lot. Sure there are many people who feel blackness in America can stand up for itself on its own terms. At the same time,people should understand history so it doesn’t repeat itself (in some form) in the future.

 

 

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Filed under 1950's, 1960's, 1966, Blogging, Dick Clark, Jerry Butler, Michael Ochs, Miles Ahead, Miles Davis, racism

Jazz Golden Age?-An Article From Ron Wynn

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Filed under Jazz, Kendrick Lemar, Miles Davis, Robert Glasper, Uncategorized

Betty Davis-They Say She’s Different

Betty Davis

Betty Davis,nee’ Mabry was one of the few women deeply involved in the late 60’s/early 70’s funk process. This was both on a professional and personal level. She recorded her first single in 1964,and her work with the Chambers Brothers in 1967 prompted her to take the focus off her successful modelling career because she felt singing/songwriting challenged her mind more,stating “its only going to last as long as you look good”. She also had a relationship with Hugh Masakela and a marriage to Miles Davis. By these associations she was a key figure for helping launch the jazz/funk fusion genre.

She introduced Miles Davis to the music of Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone-as well as to the people themselves. She was also as much of a fashion icon as Davis was. He produced her second major recording sessions (her first being in 1964) in the late 60’s before they divorced. Just about every liberated Afrocentric female artist from Chaka Khan,Grace Jones to Rihanna owe their persona’s to hers. Her second solo was called They Say I’m Different. Aside from the medium tempo tempo closer “Special People”,the rest of this 1974 album is hardcore uptempo funk/rock. Here’s my Amazon.com review of the album:


Betty Davis is an artist I’ve been hearing a lot of hype about for years.’They Say I’m Different’ is an album I’ve been hearing about forever as well.I was almost entirely certain there was no way that this album could possibly live up to the hype.Well when Light In The Attic records decided to put this out on CD,…..well to put it mildly this MORE then lived up to it’s long held mystique and hype.The best way to describe this music is unhinged and unpolished funk.EVERY song on it fits that description.As for Betty Davis’s singing,it lays somewhere between the the styles of Tina Turner,Sly Stone and Janis Joplin.

All of the songs celebrate her liberated spirit but there’s one that just blows you away in less then a second.”He Was A Big Freak”…….I don’t know WHAT MAN she was referring to but she really paints herself as a wild,wild funky diva BIG TIME here;she wails out about her “man” who enjoys being tied up.The Ohio Players did a lot of S&M based album art at the this time but TALKING OPENLY ABOUT IT,A FEMALE FUNK SINGER?And it never seems like a gimmick either because you actually believe she lived a lot of the “wild style” she speaks about.And the grooves on that and every other song here are as raw a funk as you’re probably ever going to hear.


With  the likes of Azteca’s Pete Escovedo on percussion and Graham Central Station’s Hershall Happiness Kennedy on keyboards and trumpet,this album turned out to be the second of only a trio of albums Davis released during the 1970’s. With the  documentary ‘Nasty Gal-The Many Lives Of Funk Queen Betty Davis” currently in production, the life of this influential and captivating personality may come to the fore. As it stands, Davis is a key reference point in the jazz/funk music that this blog stands for. And am happy to wish Davis a very funky 71st birthday today!

 

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Filed under 1960's, 1970's, Afrocentrism, Amazon.com, Betty Davis, Betty Mabry, funk rock, Hershall Happiness Kennedy, jazz funk, Miles Davis, Music Reviewing, Pete Escovedo, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Let Love Enter” by Michael Henderson

Michael Henderson is right up alongside Larry Graham in terms of cracker jack bass player/composers with his baritone singing voices. As a Detroit native,he was most influenced by  Motown Funk Brother (and bass guitar icon) James Jamerson. Jamerson played a lot of jazzy riffs-especially backing up Stevie Wonder. So it made sense that Henderson,a pioneer fusion jazz bassist,would bring his own bass complexity to Wonder’s music in the late 60’s/early 70’s along with session work for Marvin Gaye,Aretha Franklin, The Dramatics and Dr. By then,Henderson was moving further into his jazz chops.

Henderson transitioned from a soul session player into a jazz one during the early/mid 70’s. Working with drummer/talent scout Norman Connors and jazz pioneer Miles Davis found Henderson helping both artists transition into a soul and funk based approach-especially with  Miles’ On The Corner in 1972 and Connors You Are Starship in 1976. That same year Henderson inked a solo deal with Buddah records. His solo debut Solid is a masterpiece of his multiple talent-with its strongly funky title song. For me,another song that pulls together Henderson’s talents on the album is “Let Love Enter”.

Muruga Booker’s conga drum roll and percussion introduces the the song. It features the acoustic piano,Henderson’s bass and the ongoing percussion playing a funky variation of the Brazilian samba rhythm. The melody of it all,as illustrated by Henderson’s scaling voice and lyricism,is based in Brazilian jazz with it’s major and minor chord changes. A straight up percussion part bridges the similarly themed refrain and choruses together. On the bridge,trumpeter Marcus Belgrave delivers a succinct accompanying horn solo as Henderson’s backup singers improvise the melody with him to the songs fade out.

This  song reveals itself as having taken a lot of influence from both Norman Connors and Miles Davis. Most of the playing has Miles and Norman’s  light musical touch. It also  celebrates that Brazilian flavor that Stevie Wonder often had. What bridges these influences is that jazzy funk/soul attitude. It has a strong,melodic groove to it, and its not a simple song either. The chord progressions can be sung and hummed. Yet they offer a lot of challenge for musicians and vocalists who wish to do so. As such,its something of a defining musical moment for Michael Henderson from the beginning of his solo years.

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Brazilian Jazz, Funk Bass, jazz funk, Marcus Belgrave, Michael Henderson, Miles Davis, Muruga Booker, Norman Connors, percussion, piano, samba funk, session musicians, Stevie Wonder, trumpet, vocal jazz

“Nina” and “Miles Ahead” – Flawed but fascinating – Improvisations

Nina & MilesMiles Ahead/Nina: Flawed but Fascinating

Improvisations

By Ron Wynn

After recently seeing Cynthia Mort’s “Nina” a few weeks in advance of viewing Don Cheadle’s “Miles Ahead,” both seem to me flawed but fascinating. Each has a magnetic lead performance, neither attempts to provide the kind of substantive portrait that a documentarian would seek, and depending on your agenda, you can find them satisfactory, decent or atrocities. That there have been folks who’ve devoted lots of words and space while differing in their assessments is another indicator of just how difficult the whole biopic field has become.

Mort’s “Nina” was embroiled in controversy almost from the beginning, in large part due to the casting of A-list actress Zoe Saldana to portray the dynamic, often controversial NIna Simone. Charges of “colorism” were launched, and those cries became even louder when word surfaced about the alleged use of skin darkening makeup and a fake nose to enhance the facial contrast between Saldana and Simone. Add the presence of another international star in David Oyewolo to portray her manager Clifton Henderson, and many critics branded this little more than stunt casting designed to get Hollywood backing and major market circulation.

Mort’s response did validate, to a degree, the casting charges. She acknowledged that there were others considered for the role (though she wouldn’t list their names) and also said Saldana initially turned down the part, returning only because she truly wanted the film made. But the bottom line on “Nina” is that it is a far better film than some claimed. Saldana does a marvelous job of communicating Simone’s very complicated, mercurial personality, though it only skims the surface as far as truly documenting her artistic versatility. However it does spotlight her integrity and determination to do the music she cared about rather than what would be the most commercial, and it also highlights a fierce dignity, cultural awareness and solidarity that were unquestionably at the core of her music.

What “Nina” isn’t, and this is the implicit weakness in any biopic, is an exhaustive cinematic summation of Simone’s career, a breakdown of what made her unique and distinctive as a stylist, or a thorough recitation of all her career highlights. Folks who look to Hollywood productions for that kind of detail will always be disappointed, and “Nina” is no different. It has to condense and take shortcuts, and sometimes the juggling of exact and reworked for creative impact details tend to blur to the point that no one should take for granted that everything they see her actually happened. Netflix’s Oscar-nominated Simone documentary would be the place to go for those who want a comprehensive look at Nina Simone. As a work of dramatic intensity with some biographical elements, “Nina” succeeds despite its weaknesses.

If the evaluation is based wholly on acting skill and storytelling impact, then Cheadle’s “Miles Ahead” also can be deemed a success. It was understandable that with a career as majestic, extensive and varied as Miles Davis, no biopic that was only in the two-three hour range could fully do it justice. Plus Cheadle announced from the very beginning he had no desire to even attempt some kind of career-spanning epic. So, despite learning to play the trumpet to ensure accuracy, Cheadle instead opted for a work that focused on Miles Davis off the bandstand, while still giving you glimpses of what made him such a star on it.

You do see in the various “gangster” episodes of Miles Davis the things that also came through in his music. These include an adventurous spirit, a desire to never do what’s expected, a character who could be obsessively selfish one minute and remarkably kind the next, and someone who never felt they were treated the way that they should have been by those in positions of power, whether they be music executives or police officers.

As a lifelong Miles Davis fan and someone well versed in his various adventures, musical and otherwise, Cheadle’s portrayal was quite credible in many ways. But where “Miles Ahead” didn’t quite click was in communicating the greatness of his music, which since it didn’t set out to do that anyhow, is probably an unfair criticism. Only in the jam session portion at the end does some of the wonderful energy and vitality that was in all Miles’ great music come across on screen, and then it’s as much due to the assembled group as to anything else coming from the film.

The standard Hollywood biopic will never really satisfy the hardcore music fan, because they are about exaggerated personality and dramatic conflict first and foremost. Even those that do come close to also revealing what made the central character so important like “Ray” or “Get On Up” still have to focus more on things that will hook audience members who are casual listeners or in many instances totally unfamiliar with the music of the person being profiled, especially if we’re talking about non-rock or pop musicians. It is unrealistic at this point to expect the sort of adherence to fact and concern about technique and artistic evolution in a Hollywood biopic that you’d routinely demand from something on even the History Channel, let alone a stand-alone documentary.

Thus, in terms of the job that they were required to fufill, both “Nina” and “Miles Ahead” are basically serviceable works considerably elevated by outstanding lead performances, and augmented with some scenes from key moments in both performers’ lives that everyone should know. Given the general state of 21st century cinema, that qualifies as the best one can expect when commercial studios are in charge of any production.

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Filed under 2016, biopics, David Oyelowo, Don Cheadle, Ewan McGregor, indie movies, jazz history, Miles Ahead, Miles Davis, Nina Simone, Ron Wynn, Zoe Saldana

Miles Again: Don Cheadle and Robert Glasper Being Very Musical About Selim Sivad

Miles Again!

Miles Davis was possessed of a character that was elusive to biographical translation. When Don Cheadle began work on his largely crowd funded motion picture Miles Ahead,the best approach to Miles’ story would be more a personal ambiance than informational. Cheadle imagine Miles Davis as he would like to have seen himself. Along with bits of half remembered personal history and playing witness to fragmented pieces of himself.

Robert Glasper is a modern day pianist who feels exactly the same as Miles did about music in general. That the improvisational art of jazz consistently has to be re-invented with new themes,new standards all the time. And that’s it’s the musician, not the writers/ critics, who sets that tone. Since Cheadle worked with Glapser on  the music surrounding the film,it seemed appropriate to explore the full spectrum of this musical project.

Miles Ahead-Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Over the years,I’ve generally avoided soundtrack albums. It seems all too easy for someone to simply pile a series of songs onto the CD and call it a soundtrack. Don Cheadle’s film Miles Ahead takes a more cinematic approach to the Miles Davis attitude as opposed to being a straight biographical narrative. Cheadle was joined by 80’s era Miles alumni in drummer Vince Wilburn and the defiant pianist Robert Glasper in terms of producing this album. The selection of songs for the project could’ve been exhaustive-considering the breadth of Miles’s recorded catalog of music. So instead of going with the traditional method of soundtracks that keeps me away from most,this takes another sort of approach.

Songs that represent Miles’ modal period such as “So What” flow along into “Solea”,the uptempo “Seven Steps To Heaven” and “Nefertiti”. These represent his acoustic period on this collection It goes from there into what Miles referred to as his “directions in music” with songs like “Frelon Brun” and the 6th take of “Duran”. His full blow fusion sound is represented by “Go Ahead,John”,an edit of “Black Satin” and “Back Seat Betty” from 1981. Glasper provides the sax heavy jazz-funk of “Juniors Jam”,the orchestral electric piano heavy ballad “Francessence”. “What’s Wrong With That?” is a flowing fusion/funk jam with Cheadle actually playing trumpet with the surviving members of Miles second quintet of the 1960’s.”Gone 2015″ ends the album with an big horn fanfare of a jazz/hip-hop number from Glasper and rapper Pharoahe Monich.

This album traces the musical legacy of Miles Davis from 1959 through his early 80’s comeback-the time period dealt with in the film. What really makes it a standout motion picture soundtrack is that it takes the Spike Lee approach in telling a story through the full album format. Moments of Cheadle portraying Miles’s famous quotes and statements are put into the mix as interludes between songs. This allows for the soundtrack to feel like a journey one is taking through the mind of Miles. Which essentially reduces down to an audio version of the films intent. Ending with Miles inspired new numbers from Robert Glasper makes this perhaps the sonic film soundtrack experience of 2016.

Everything’s Beautiful/Miles Davis & Robert Glasper 

Over the last several years,Robert Glasper has been seeking to change the vocabulary of jazz. His approach has always seemed to me very similar in that regard to the late Miles Davis. He often has made similar references that jazz needed to look outside itself for new standards on which to create new improvised art. From what I’ve heard of Glasper,he’s largely looked to hip-hop as a musical medium for the nu jazz sound of which he’s a major player. He ended up being the musical directer behind the new Don Cheadle film Miles Ahead. So it was very exciting for me to see Glasper create an entire project based on the man whose musical ethnic most shaped his own.

“Talking Shit” opens the album with a rhythmic sample of Miles’ 1969 discussion with drummer Joe Chambers that sets up the album title-the trumpet players view on music itself basically. “Ghetto Talk” features the soaring vocals of longtime Glasper collaborator Bilal and while “They Can’t Hold Me Down” brings in rapper Illa J. These songs all have blunted hip-hop beats with jazzy funk atmospherics. “Violets” brings in the Foreign Exchanges’ Phonte in for a brooding,slow swinging piano based groove. “Maiyshia (So Long)” has Erykah Badu dealing with an electronic bossa nova with a sassy rhythm. “Little Church” and “Silence Is The Key” deal with a modern electronica reboot of Miles’ classic modal sound.

“Song For Selim” takes on the same effect of re-imagining modality in a current context while Georgia Anne Muldrow sizzles up the electro swing big time for a makeover of “Milestones”. “I’m Leaving You” is one of my favorites here-thick bluesy funk sampling Miles himself with Ledisi’s vocal leads and John Scofield’s guitar. Stevie Wonder comes in for the closer “Right On Brother”-looking Miles’ solo from “Right Off” into a synth bass heavy funk/house context. Glasper didn’t want a trumpet based tribute to Miles here. He knew the man wouldn’t have wanted that. Instead,he showcased Miles Davis’s influence on musicians as a whole. And did so by again re-inventing the nu jazz sound in the most funky possible manner.

Everyone involved in both of these projects understood very well the creative daring and self absurdness that defined Miles Davis’s music during his lifetime. When it came to Robert Glasper creating his own music based on the Miles attitude and musical school,he did so with the maximum amount of strong,extended melody and funkiness wherever it was needed. So for what would’ve been Miles’ 90th year of life,this is a special occasion.

 

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Filed under 2016, Amazon.com, Don Cheadle, hip-hop/jazz, Jazz, jazz funk, jazz fusion, Miles Ahead, Miles Davis, Music Reviewing, nu jazz, Robert Glasper, Soundtracks, trumpet

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Full Nelson” by Miles Davis

Miles Davis’s chief musical inspiration during the 80’s was Prince. He even referred to the late Minneapolis music icon as a “genius” in an interview with Bill Boggs. In 1986,Miles left Columbia after a decades long relationship and signed with Warner Bros.-the label Prince happened to be recording on. Prince did compose one song with Miles for a planned album session between them. The song was called “Can I Play With U”. As the story goes,Prince pulled the song because he felt the song didn’t fit with the other material Miles had planned for the album,which he named for the Bishop Desmond Tutu.

Miles ended up working with the multi instrumentalist /composer/arranger/ producer Marcus Miller. Miller had been part of Miles band since the beginning of his comeback in 1980. The album Tutu finally came out in September of 1986. While the album was largely reviewed in the same snide manner as much as anything of Miles’ electric period,it did totally bring his sound into the electro funk era. The impropriety of South African apartheid seemed to be on Miles’ mind while making this album as well. And therefore it ended with a very powerful groove entitled “Full Nelson”.

Starting out with a bit of trumpet practice,Miles mutters “go ahead” before the song breaks in. The song has a stomping,Cameo style drum machine beat. A pulsing,ultrasound type electronic bass sound bubbles into the back-round. Miller starts out playing a thick rhythm guitar. Than when his slap bass comes in,Miles improvise across the bass lines. Those lines descend into Miles on trumpet and Miller on sax playing the strong choral melody over an ethereal,orchestral synthesizer. After several rounds of Miles soloing across thick bass and synth pops,the song fades out again on it’s chorus.

Miles Davis really perfected his understanding of the full bodied funk song on “Full Nelson”. Marcus Miller totally embodies the Prince approach of multi layering digital horn synthesizers,melody and bass/guitar interaction with Miles trademark trumpet soloing style. Miller also lends that distinctive style of his own to the Minneapolis style groove here-including a somewhat thicker rhythmic stomp. Miles gets all the space and accents he needs to do his own thing as well. Tutu is a strong mid 80’s rebirth for Miles as it stands. And that it ends on possibly it’s most funky note says a lot.

 

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Filed under 1986, drum machine, elecro funk, jazz funk, Marcus Miller, Miles Davis, Prince, rhythm guitar, Saxophone, slap bass, synth brass, synthesizers, trumpet, Warner Bros.

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Shout” by Miles Davis

Miles Davis late 70’s retirement period was the basis of the main plot in Don Cheadle’s semi fictitious biopic Miles Ahead this year. While he recorded some  unreleased sessions with Gil Evans during this period,Miles made what he admits to be the one crucial mistake of his career. He stopped practicing trumpet. As a beginner level alto sax player as a child,I understand how lack of practice can lead to losing ones embrasure-the key to playing any horn instrument. When his nephew,the drummer Vince Wilburn convinced Miles to start recording again,regaining that embrasure was Miles’ biggest challenge musically.

When Miles got back in the Columbia studio in 1980,he was working with a group of younger musicians. The then 54 year old trumpet icon once said of his approach to music overall was to keep creating and changing. To would keep  from getting stale and safe. One of the new musicians was the bass player/composer Marcus Miller. Miller as also a multi instrumentalist. He understood along with the other players such as  Bill Evans, Al Foster and Robert Irving III how to bring Miles into the 1980’s. His 80’s debut The Man With The Horn contains a superb example of this in the song “Shout”.

Thick sheets of up scaling synthesizers bring in the song over rolling percussion. After that the drums kick into place. Along with a six note bass line which equals out with the instruments lowest and highest tones. Miles himself plays a succinct, indeed shouting main melody on the choruses. Each trumpet solo is accompanied by Randy Hall’s chicken scratch guitar that plays throughout the song. After the refrain where Miles’s solo becomes more rhythmic in tone,he takes an improvised solo that extends right into higher pitched soaring before the song fades out on the chorus.

Composed with Randy Hall and Robert Irving III,”Shout” might be the finest funk SONG Miles Davis had done up to this point. Rhythmically it’s very structured.  Miles s keeps the melody strong on the main themes and improvised soloing. Hall and Irving also seem to have had the same early understanding of Prince’s Minneapolis sound. The horns are soloing elements while the synths and guitar lines play orchestral roles. With the rhythm locked in tight,yet the sound so full this song sets an important standard with Miles for more electronic orchestrated jazz funk for the remainder of the 1980’s.

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Filed under 1980's, chicken scratch guitar, Columbia Records, drums, Funk Bass, instrumental, jazz funk, Miles Davis, percussion, Randy Hall, Robert Irving III, synthesizers, trumpet, Vince Wilburn