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.
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
Robert Glasper shares a lot in common with another musical free spirit in the late Miles Davis. The Texas native got an early start in dealing with the jazz hip-hop style which of course Miles was beginning to embrace during his final years. While in high school,he met neo soul singer Bilal. This led to gigs with other jazz informed hip-hoppers such as Q-Tip,Talib Kweli and the late J Dilla. He made his debut album in 2004,and his major label debut for Blue Note a year later. On his album Double Booked,he began moving towards a more electric sound. But that was only the beginning as it turned out.
In 2012 he released the first in what’s been two separate volumes of his Black Radio series. The subtext for this,which I read in interviews Glasper gave to a music magazine of my fathers, went for the Miles Davis angle that the jazz genre needed to improvise over new standards. Both volumes of this album contain covers of songs such as Sade’s “Cherish The Day” alongside his own material. This year,Glasper appeared with surviving members of Miles’ 60’s quintet in the Don Cheadle film Miles Ahead. And one of the grooves on his upcoming Miles tribute album Everything’s Beautiful is called “I’m Leaving You”.
Drums playing at a five beat pattern with a break between each rhythm lay the bedrock for this song. The bass comes out as a round,ascending bottom while the very scratchy guitar samples play as a purely percussive element. Also on that groove,Miles’ trademark horse speaking voice is re-sampled saying “wait a minute,wait a minute” throughout the song. A reedy whistle,a wah wah guitar and Scofield’s bluesy guitar assist Ledisi’s soulful vocals. On the bridge,Scofield takes a full guitar solo after which Ledisi responds to her own backup vocals while the bass line and drum fade the song out in a silent way.
Having not heard a lot of Robert Glasper, this is by far the funkiest song I’ve ever heard him do. The musical bedrock of John Scofield,who of course played with Miles Davis, is held down by a core rhythm section. As well as what sound like metallic rhythm guitar looped from Miles’ 1972 song “On The Corner”. During his lifetime,Miles tended to deal with funk as rhythm vamps to solo over. Here Glasper takes samples of Miles’ music,voice and puts them into a more structured hard funk context. I have a feeling the late trumpet player would’ve found this groove one that came at people with plenty of attitude.
Filed under 2016, Don Cheadle, drums, Funk Bass, hip-hop jazz, jazz funk, John Scofield, lead guitar, Ledisi, Miles Ahead, Miles Davis, Nu Funk, nu jazz, Robert Glasper, Sampling, wah wah guitar
From the very first moment I heard Down To The Bone in the late 90’s,it was clear this band from the London acid jazz club scene was going to be right up m alley. Since that time its been my pleasure to have purchased and reviewed a couple other DTTB albums. They have a number of albums but alas,they aren’t always the easiest to find. So when it came to my attention they had a new release planned for this year? It was on my wish list for the local record store Bull Moose. And sure enough,the store got a copy of the album in stock regardless of the order. Generally speaking,when it comes to the jazz/funk fusion genre I really do look forward to anything to emerge from that genre year by year. Mainly because of the rhythmic and melodic musical adventures they tend to take the listener one when placing your ears into the center of the grooves. Sometimes a high level of anticipation can lead to a mild letdown. Other times,its perfectly fulfilling. And the latter was what I hoped for in this release.
“Dropping Knowledge” starts the album out on a superb note-brightly melodic and percussion/horn driven uptempo funk where every instrumental part accentuates the other in rhythmically grooving harmony. “Meteorite”,”Getting It Together” and the closer “Give Me Love” keep that same bright feeling going strong. “The Bounce” and the hit single “The Sweetness”,on the other hand are locked down,foot stomping funk. Both have a slinkiness to them that brings out the colorful sheen of the piano and horn solos. A richly dancable late 70’s “sophistifunk” jazz-funk approach comes into play on “Happiness Is The Healer” and “Put A Different Spin On It”-two vocal numbers featuring the spirited singer Katie Leone. Both numbers passionately tout the virtues of joy and celebration of life over cynicism and giving up on oneself. They are “people music” funk with a message to the very highest degree. The title song brings a very Afro-Latin percussion flavor for a strong,sweaty jam with a tasty Roy Ayers-like vibraphone solo throughout. “We’re On The Move” brings everything together with a percussive groove before moving into the Ike Hayes-like wah-wah powered cinematic soul throw down on the bridge.
There is a quality about the presentation of the music on this album where,especially around the middle,the funk aware listener can just sense that crucial moment when everything about where the grooves are going are about to come to a head,and into something very beautiful and elegant as well. Generally speaking, DTTB albums I’ve heard in the past had a strong House/dance style rhythmic ethic to them. In short,a mild techno/club influence in with the funk. The spirit of this album is very much full on in the EWF/Incognito school of rhythmically and melodically dynamic live band funk. And the band to a literally bang up job on that as well. Very much players with a strong collective style,who typically maintain that unison approach, there doesn’t appear to be anyone in this band-from percussionist Joe Beckett to trombonist Tim Smart,who are are afraid to venture out and play tremendous solos in the middle of these classy and well produced grooves. And if not stated in lyrical/vocal form? The nature of the melodies…more than imply the joy of living and working to the rhythm. And the positive attitude that comes from this impulse. Truly a candidate for my favorite album of the year thus far.
Originally written May 1st,2014
One of the factors that always had me ambivalent about neo soul was the genres tendency to cross bridges. It could never seem to decide whether it wanted to be retro or contemporary,artful or commercial. Add to that having a tendency to revel in cliches such as the vinyl scratch sound effects of song intros and out of sync beats and rhythms added to its seeming lack of focus. But for those who liked 70’s soul and funk as the new millennium arrived? This genre was about all the commercial end of the hip-hop spectrum seemed to offer such an audience. There were happily many occasions where the genre succeeded-based generally on the creative virtues of the artists involved. The Internet are a recent example. Arriving on the scene a bit late for neo soul,as more secure 70’s style soul/funk is re-emerging with modern production,this somewhat revolving door LA group released their sophomore record this years Feel Good in February and presenting their lead off song “Dontcha'”.
Visually its an austere video,shot in black & white and presenting itself extremely generally: the band consisting of bassist/guitarist Patrick Paige, guitarist Mike Einziger, drummer Christopher Smith, synthesizer player Chad Hugo and the androgynous lead singer/keyboardist Syd “THe Kid” Bennett performing the song against a platinum white backdrop. The song starts out with Chad playing a thumping,single note on the synthesizer bass before the song builds into a Fender Rhodes solo which returns on each melodic refrain in a dreamy and phased high solo. Patrick and Mike on bass and guitar are locked down tight into a chunky disco-funk style arrangement. Syd’s vocal style is very much in the vein of a somewhat lower key Amel Larrieux (of Groove Theory fame) and melds like clue to to the metaphoric model airplane that is the sound The Internet achieves with their extremely lean sound that manages to instrumentally take flight.
While the song and video are both very stripped down,it gets the effect of the transitional post disco/boogie funk sound down pat with a jazzy element that brings to mind elements of Chuck Brown’s original go-go funk approach as well. Not to mention the song is very sweetly melodic compositionally. One of the most telling factors about the song is that lead singer/keyboardist Syd Bennett seems somewhat deliberately sexually ambiguous. She’s not trying to get attention by being camp. Her image is that of a young boy from the projects in jeans and T-shirt-where in fact both genders might be dressed this way often enough. And the lyrics to this song reflect the idea of imagination and creativity being as important an element to adult romance and sensuality as realism-especially with lines such as “Swimming through your galaxy,starstruck on all of you /Perfect love analogy, that’s how I describe you”. The lyrical and instrumental eloquence of this song is a superb example of a late in the day neo soul/nu jazz group making music that perfectly reflects both the core of sophistifunk and the sparer approach of electro boogie funk in a modern context.