From India with Love: Miles Davis

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I have been thinking in recent weeks of whether or not the time has come to shut down Washerman’s Dog and Harmonium blogs. I find it hard to carve out the time to share music and do the writing which I so enjoy. I’ve got a very busy working life plus write a weekly musical column for an Indian newspaper and am dedicating more time to photography.

I do apologize for the irregularity of posts on both blogs but cannot promise that it will improve much in the coming weeks. The past month in particular has been crazy with a trip home to Oz and then 10 days here in KL with the family on a bit of a holiday. Before and after that family interlude I have been caught up in international emergency responses to two major natural disasters: the cyclone in Vanuatu (and other countries) and now, as of last week, the earthquake in Nepal.

Time for music blogging has evaporated.

But having preambled all this, I ironically find myself with an hour free. The house is clean, the laundry is doing its stuff in the back room and I’ve just finished a piece of toast and honey. I have burned the dal (my lunch for the next couple of days) and will soon toss it in the rubbish. How to fill this unexpected gift of time?

Referring back to the earthquake in Nepal, my column this week highlighted some very cool music from Nepal including the work of jazz keyboardist Louiz Banks. That got me thinking of his place in contemporary Indian music, which is hugely significant. He’s a big man and he is responsible, with a handful of others, of advancing the cause of jazz and fusion jazz among India’s musician community. Among his many kudos is a Grammy nomination for his work along side Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, Gary Bartz and several others, including a number of outstanding Indian musicians in interpreting the work of Miles Davis.

The name of the album is Miles from India and here is what the AMG folks say about it.

It was such a simple concept. Producer Bob Belden (who has directed the Miles Davis reissue series) was talking with Times Square label owner Yusuf Gandhi about Miles‘ use of Indian instrumentation during The Complete On the Corner Sessions and wondered aloud what it would sound like if Indian musicians played Miles‘ music. Gandhi replied “Miles from India,” and nearly a year later Beldendelivered this brilliant set that not only features a number of India’s finest musicians but a veritable who’s who of Miles‘ own sidemen. In perhaps the boldest move, Belden and the musicians looked well beyond Miles‘ 1972-1975 sessions with Indian instruments for inspiration, performing tracks from the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s (the same time span covered by Miles‘ associates on this album). Another fun thing about these performances is that some of Miles‘ sidemen play on songs they didn’t originally play on — like the opener, “Spanish Key,” featuring Mike Stern and Dave Liebman. But despite some additional Indian percussion and vocalizing, “Spanish Key” doesn’t vary much from the original. On the other hand, “All Blues” is completely transformed, with Ravi Chary‘s sitar taking the place of Miles‘ trumpet. The Gary Bartz/Rudresh Mahanthappa sax duet on this is a real treat, as are the presence and playing of Jimmy Cobb, who also played on the original 1959 Kind of Blue session. The fast version of “Ife” marks the entrance of monster bass player Michael Henderson and the wonderfully deranged guitar of Pete Cosey, who does not record nearly enough. After the lovely but relatively brief sarod-led “In a Silent Way,” it’s great to hear Cosey rip it up on “It’s About That Time.” He’s nearly matched in intensity by Bartz‘s sax and Kala Ramnath‘s violin while Henderson does his thing with that killer Dave Holland bassline. Stern gets to reprise his role on the classic “Jean Pierre,” paired with some great flute from Rakesh Chaurasia.

Chick Corea appears only on “So What,” but turns in a great piano solo with some tasty inside-the-piano work. Like “All Blues,” “So What” becomes something else again with the addition of a trio of Indian percussionists and a change in time signature. And while the bassline of “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” doesn’t really lend itself to Henderson‘s signature propulsive style, the percussionists lock in with him, providing a platform for more sick playing from Cosey. “Blue in Green” has Wallace Roney‘s trumpet singing with Shankar Mahadevan‘s voice and then sarangi in another sublime transformation. Here, Mike Stern‘s solo is as gentle as the one on “Jean Pierre” was noisy. Henderson and drummerVince Wilburn kick it on “Great Expectations,” which segues briefly into the introspective “Orange Lady” and back. Chary and Roney both contribute excellent solos and Cosey goes nuts (why doesn’t he record more?). Fortunately, he gets plenty more space on the slow version of “Ife,” both soloing and comping. The rhythm section of Henderson and Badal Roy on tabla is completely hypnotic here, providing a perfect base for languid solos from Dave Liebman and Gary Bartz and some nice spacy sounds from Cosey and Adam Holzman. The album closes with the only track Miles didn’t record: “Miles from India,” penned by John McLaughlin for this set. Scored for voice, piano, guitar, and the electric mandolin of U. Srinivas, it’s a pensive and atmospheric track that nevertheless features some passionate soloing. And that’s merely touching on some of the highlights. Folks like Ron Carter,Marcus MillerNdugu Chancler, and Lenny White haven’t even been mentioned, let alone some of the great Indian musicians also present here.

The essence of jazz is improvisation and expression, and Miles always sought out highly individual players. The beauty of Miles from India is how the players from different cultures and backgrounds meet on Miles‘ turf with their individual voices completely intact. Miles from India is not only an amazing celebration of the music of Miles Davis, it’s also a tribute to the way Miles and Teo Macero changed the way jazz music can be made. Granted, it’s the musicians involved who turn in these scorching performances, but this album was recorded in Mumbai, India, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Saylorsburg, PA (!?), and would not have been possible without the studio techniquesMacero pioneered with Miles. Perhaps, like MaceroBob Belden will be remembered more for his production than his horn playing. Either way, with Miles from IndiaBelden has outdone himself and delivered a tribute that succeeds completely on every level. Kudos to all involved. (AMG)

Hope you enjoy this very nice record. In addition to focussing on some good and fresh music, this post is the very first ‘cross posting’ between the two blogs. Followers of both blogs I’m sure find much to enjoy here!

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Track Listing: V 1

1-01 Spanish Key [Mike Stern , Dave Leibman]

1-02 All Blues [Louis Banks, Ravi Chary, Rudresh Mahantappa]

1-03 Ife (Fast) [Michael Henderson, Pete Covey]

1-04 In A Silent Way [Brij Narain]

1-05 It’s About That Time [Kala Ramnath, Gary Bartz]

1-06 Jean Pierre [Mike Stern Rakesh Chaurasia]

V1

Track Listing: V2

2-01 So What [Louis Banks, Chick Corea]

2-02 Miles Runs The Voodoo Down [Michael Henderson, Lenny White and Sivamani and Vikku Vinayakram]

2-03 Blue In Green [Wallace Roney and Shankar Mahadevan]

2-04 Great Expectations [Marcus Miller, Ravi Chary and Wallace Roney]

2-05 Ife (Slow) [Gary Bartz, Badal Roy and Dave Liebman]

2-06 Miles From India [John McLaughlin and U. Srinivas]

V2

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11 thoughts on “From India with Love: Miles Davis

  1. Phil

    It is a great album mixing two styles intricately. Keep the blog going, even if sporadic. It brings great enjoyment, and communication!

    Reply
  2. Bill

    I hope you reconsider not shutting down. I rather like your writing and the opportunity to hear these unusual recordings. Thank you!–Bill

    Reply
  3. oldDJ

    Please keep writing. I really enjoy the pace of this blog. Seems like a post shows up right around when I’m wondering about hearing/reading/learning something new from you. I think this is a really human-paced blog, it moves with the rhythms of your life. I love that. And I love the music, the art, and your writing tying it all together.

    Reply

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