Various Artists: Miles From India

John McLaughlin penned the title cut for this Bob Belden production which, along with McLaughlin's Floating Point, was nominated for a 2008 Grammy. Both albums focus on Western music, or Western- based music, as performed by groups integrated with jazz musicians and Indian musicians. Belden suggests in the liner notes that he is after a "universal truth" that exists in "reconciliation between disparate cultures." I would say he found it.

This slow, introspective, but eventually hopeful ballad is without percussion. You do your own silent counting. Vocalist Sikkil Gurucharan creates the tune's atmosphere. Each musician takes a turn. McLaughlin knows this terrain perhaps better than any Western musician. Heck, he invented much of it. He has a beautiful sound on this recording. His solo, over Banks's keyboard-created drone, is a plea to the heavens. His accompaniment is a supportive halleluiah. Mandolin player U. Srinivas, a member of McLaughlin's Remember Shakti band, plays with as much meaning and purpose as McLaughlin. The interplay between the two plectrists is the opposite of culture clash; it is nothing short of touching brilliance. The tune fades, but the memory remains. Belden's judgment to end the 2-CD set with this cut is fitting.

I would suggest that Belden could not have produced Miles From India had there not been a John McLaughlin. His presence as a leader in this Indo-jazz movement goes back three decades to Shakti. He was by no means the first to head in that direction, but he is the movement's towering figure. Belden gives McLaughlin his just dues in the liner notes.

March 02, 2009 · 0 comments


Various Artists: Blue in Green

Can anyone doubt that, had he lived longer, Miles Davis would have been a major player in the Indo-jazz fusion movement that has come to the fore in recent years? Producer Bob Belden here makes sure Davis was part of it anyway. For Miles From India, Belden assembled an impressive cast of Western musicians who'd collaborated with Davis. Many were part of Miles's most historic recordings. Belden then paired them with established and up-&-coming Indian musicians to interpret some of Miles's greatest works. Belden sees Miles's music as a common language. More and more, Indian musicians are becoming fluent in this language.

Dilshad Khan's sarangi hangs over "Blue in Green's" intro like a protective shroud. The sarangi is an ancient Indian stringed instrument mastered by few musicians, Khan clearly being one. Free-floating elements are added by trumpeter Wallace Roney, sounding like Miles himself, guitarist Mike Stern and keyboardist Louiz Banks. Vocalist Shankar Mahadevan, best known in the West as a frequent guest with John McLaughlin's Remember Shakti, acts as the lead melodic instrument, his wordless vocalizations imbuing the piece with a haunting beauty. The tune's midsection provides a venue for some fine jazz explorations from Banks and Stern. They are propelled throughout by the rhythm section of bassist Ron Carter and drummer Jimmy Cobb, drummer on the original "Blue In Green" from Kind of Blue. An abrupt change in direction occurs that ushers in Roney and Khan for some spacey and moving interplay. (The sudden shift is reminiscent of what producer Teo Macero had sometimes created in the editing room on Miles's A Tribute to Jack Johnson and other records.) The musicians return en masse to bring the 13-minute excursion to a pleasing end. By communicating across two global hemispheres, this music takes another important step forward in the natural extension of jazz through cultural understanding.

March 02, 2009 · 0 comments


Shirley Horn: My Funny Valentine

While Miles Davis tribute albums are legion, none is more heartfelt than Shirley Horn's I Remember Miles. Horn got one of her first big breaks from Davis in 1961, when the trumpeter insisted that the then-unknown singer open for him at the Village Vanguard. A Davis sketch of the two adorns the cover, and a vintage photo (presumably taken at the Vanguard) appears inside the package. One imagines that those images were in her mind, if not in the studio, as she made this album. Throughout, it's as if Horn is singing directly to her late friend and supporter. Her version of "My Funny Valentine" starts with a stark reading of the bridge before settling into her patented slow groove. As the performance grows in intensity, Horn makes us think about every word, and each melodic variation seems to emphasize the lyric. And when she reaches the word "stay," everything stops so she can make the most out of the last line, repeating it several times to bolster the final point. Perhaps that final word ("stay") was Shirley's wish that Miles— who'd passed away six years before—would never truly leave us.

January 20, 2009 · 0 comments


Richard Galliano & Jean-Charles Capon: Goodbye Miles

A series of duets between an accordionist and a cellist? Why would I want to listen to that, you might ask. For the sole reason that they are superbly executed, that's why! Galliano, of course, is a virtuoso on his instrument, and Blues sur Seine makes clear that the lesser-known Capon is in the same class. Capon has played a lot of free jazz over the years, from the Baroque Jazz Trio to projects with musicians such as Joe McPhee and David S. Ware. For this CD, however, he and the equally versatile Galliano focused on a more mainstream playlist.

"Goodbye Miles," Capon's tribute to Miles Davis, tries to capture the flavor of late-'60s Miles, when his more conservative fan base began railing against his newfound fusion style. Yet the track better recalls the works of Jean-Luc Ponty, due to the persistent ostinato figure first sustained by Galliano and later taken up by Capon, and also because of the ethereal nature of the theme. Capon's uplifting bowed solo even sounds like Ponty in its phrasing and with inflections that sometimes veer towards country or bluegrass. Galliano's improv spirals gracefully from nimble single-note lines to grand chordal expressions, as always sounding uniquely like himself. At the end Galliano becomes contemplative, his floating phrases taking on an eerie quality before he drops out entirely and only Capon's pizzicato, contagious ostinato survives.

November 26, 2008 · 0 comments


Joe Henderson: Milestones

Joe Henderson was never more popular than during his Verve years of the '90s, with his well-received tributes to Billy Strayhorn, Miles Davis, and Antonio Carlos Jobim. For the Davis project, the always inquisitive Henderson did not go for the obvious choices, instead selecting rarely covered pieces such as "Teo," "Swing Spring," "Side Car" and "Milestones." No, not the totally different "Milestones" of 1958 – this was instead Miles's composition from the very first recording session he ever led, in 1947, with Charlie Parker on tenor. Miles later reworked the 1947 "Milestones" for a 1953 date, titling it "Miles Ahead," not to be mistaken for the better-known 1957 Davis/Gil Evans work by the same name (which Henderson also selected). Confusion may reign here, but definitely not in the music.

The rewardingly compatible pairing of Henderson and Scofield for So Near, So Far makes one wish that Scofield had been able to add Henderson to his own group around that time (or vice versa), as Joe Lovano was about to move on. Holland and Foster, of course, knew Miles's music first-hand and intimately, and perform at their best. This "Milestones" is an easygoing, circular melodic theme with an attractive bridge, and would have fit right in on the Davis Birth of the Cool session. Henderson and Scofield play it in relaxed unison before the tenorist's compelling solo, which features his expressive tone and a typically restless attack that utilizes compressed, staccato phrases and intricately wound extended lines. Scofield's comping makes this sound like a heady blend of '60s and '80s Miles, and the guitarist's own solo, even with its distinctive distortion-enhanced voicings, appears to be transposing Henderson's artistic sensibility from tenor to guitar. Soul brothers indeed, and Henderson wisely invited Scofield back some five years later for his Verve adaptation of Porgy and Bess.

September 16, 2008 · 0 comments


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