Miles Davis & Robert Glasper – Everything’s Beautiful

davisandglasper_everythingsbeautiful

Title: Everything’s Beautiful

Artist: Miles Davis & Robert Glasper

Label: Columbia/Legacy

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release Date: May 27, 2016

 

 

Miles Davis is something of a musical Mona Lisa: iconic, innovative, and—despite being well-documented—open to as many possible interpretations as there are interpreters.  This is likely in equal parts due to Davis’s ever-shifting musical approach as well as his cryptic and often ambiguous utterances.  Everything’s Beautiful must be read as one of many possible ways to interpret Davis’s music, perhaps usefully construed as paying tribute to Miles the innovator.  It is no accident that this tribute is led by an innovator in the contemporary jazz scene, Robert Glasper, who alternates between albums with his electric/electronic and acoustic groups, bringing hip hop and jazz with him along the way.  Each of the album’s 12 cuts, with the exception of the first track, features a guest artist; each of these artists presents a unique take on Miles that is filtered through Glasper’s electronic neo-soul jazz fusion, with heavy sampling from Davis’s large body of recorded work, including both the trumpeter’s music and voice.

YouTube Preview Image

As the album’s cover art, created by Francine Turk based upon Miles’s own artwork suggests (and tinged with the heavy influence of Basquiat), Everything’s Beautiful is largely an impressionistic effort.  While its songs are built around Miles samples, it is often difficult to tell where samples end and new material begins.  Tribute albums often consist predominantly of cover versions of key tracks from the original artist’s repertoire.  However, Everything’s Beautiful features a starkly different approach—the closest thing to a cover on Everything’s Beautiful is Georgia Anne Muldrow’s reading of “Miles Ahead,” an electronic reimagining of the iconic tune that features Glasper’s only piano solo on the disc. Much of the record depends on creative sampling—rather than grabbing a tune’s hook (a la US3’s “Cantaloop”), Glasper and company pick small bits and pieces to construct their new tracks.  “I’m Leaving You,” for instance, is punctuated by a sample of Miles saying “Wait a Minute” atop a Lenny White drum pattern.  John Scofield (a Davis band alum) grooves and solos on the funky track while Ledisi lays down R&B inflected vocals.  This sampling technique also informs the album’s opener, “Talking Shit,” on which Glasper and company lay down instrumental grooves combined with a sample of Davis talking about playing, likely recorded in the studio between takes.

The album is chock full of other superstar guests—Bilal appears on “Ghetto Walkin’”, Illa J (J-Dilla’s younger brother, who Glasper knew from his days hanging out at Dilla’s house with Kareem Wiggins and) lends vocals to “They Can’t Hold Me Down,” Eyrkah Badu sings on “Maiysha (So Long)” and even Stevie Wonder makes an appearance, playing harmonica on the instrumental “Right on Brother.” Each of these cuts reflects the featured artists’ as well as Glasper’s interpretation of Davis’s legacy, lending broad room for experimentation in hip hop, funk, soul, R&B, and jazz, as the individual collaborator sees fit.

What this album lacks in cohesiveness or definition it makes up for in droves with experimentation.  Everything’s Beautiful draws upon Miles Davis the innovator, using the trumpeter’s words and music as a springboard for new sounds and approaches, solidifying jazz and hip hop through Glasper’s tasteful neo-soul production. I must emphasize that there is nothing definitive about this album—it is certainly not the final word on the trumpeter’s musical legacy and represents only one part of Miles.  But the adventurousness that these artists purvey is certainly a fitting tribute to a musician who was on the vanguard of all of the major jazz movements during his lifetime.

 

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

Miles Davis, Robert Glasper, Don Cheadle – Miles Ahead: Original Soundtrack Recording

miles ahead

Title: Miles Ahead – Original Soundtrack Recording

Artist: Miles Davis, Robert Glasper, Don Cheadle

Label: Sony Legacy

Format: CD

Release Date: 4/1/16

 

Don Cheadle’s new movie is what amounts to a fictional bio-pic about Miles Davis, with parts of the portrayed biography being real but the central action of the movie being a creation of Cheadle’s imagination. In short, it takes a real person, Miles Davis, and elements of his real life, as portrayed by Cheadle, and sets in motion a series of incidents that never actually happened.

YouTube Preview Image

Given that setup, it’s not surprising that the soundtrack recording features snippets of Don Cheadle portraying Miles Davis between cuts of actual Davis recordings and additional music by jazz-hip hop artist Robert Glasper.

What is surprising, though, is that it works pretty well. There are only three complete cuts from Miles Davis’s albums: “Miles Ahead” from the 1953 Prestige compilation Blue Haze, “So What” from the 1959 Columbia classic Kind of Blue, and “Frelon Brun” from the 1969 Columbia album Filles de Kilimanjaro. The other seven Davis tunes are either edits or cuts, but offer a good flavor of the depth and breadth of Davis’s music. The Glasper cuts are Davis-esque, as are Cheadle’s spoken interludes.

Like the movie, the soundtrack album is an exploration of one man’s (Cheadle’s) ideas about another man (Davis). There are other views of Davis and his life, including his own autobiography, Miles. Keep in mind, Cheadle’s movie is a series of fictional events, and this soundtrack was created in service to that movie.

Although Sony’s press release suggests this album might be a good introduction to the music of Miles Davis, I highly recommend seeking out the original albums. Aside from the three cited above, check out the other sources of edited/excerpted cuts: Sketches of Spain, Seven Steps To Heaven, Nefertiti, Jack Johnson, On the Corner and Agharta.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

Dr. Lonnie Smith – Evolution

dr lonnie smith_evolution

Title: Evolution

Artist: Dr. Lonnie Smith

Label: Blue Note

Format: CD

Release date: January 29, 2016

 

 

Hammond B3 master Dr. Lonnie Smith returns to Blue Note Records for his first release on the label in 45 years.  Evolution does not really represent a change in Smith’s sound, but it does show the seasoned bandleader’s development into a musician who leads a tight, tasteful ensemble.  Smith’s signature funk-jazz is present in droves, which is well worth a listen in its own right.  What truly makes Evolution stand apart from the herd of jazz releases thus far in 2016 is the organist’s assemblage of master players. Breaking from the traditional organ trio format on all but two tracks, Smith has enlisted several luminary musicians to help him out on this record.  The core group consists of Smith on Organ, Joe Dyson on drums, Jonathan Blake on drums — yes, this group has two drummers (!), Jonathan Kreisberg on guitar, and John Ellis on a variety of woodwinds, including tenor sax, flute, and bass clarinet.  Other jazz superstars also make appearances, with Robert Glasper dropping by for the album’s funky quote-filled opening number “Play it Back” and saxophonist Joe Lovano on two cuts, “Afrodesia,” and “For Heaven’s Sake.”

In addition to Smith’s compelling original cuts, the group explores two standards, “Straight No Chaser” and “My Favorite Things” as a trio, with Kreisberg on guitar and Blake on drums.  These cuts are true to the conventions of this format, and are compelling readings of the tunes that showcase the core group’s interpretative vision, making the oft-played tunes fresh in their gifted hands.  The original numbers slay, too. Kreisberg gets the opportunity to dig into his wah-wah on “Talk About This,” a funk chant a la The Meters and “African Suite” settles into its multi-layered polyrhythmic groove.

Dr. Lonnie Smith is certainly one of the most versatile and dynamic players to ever helm the B3, and Evolution is a compelling reminder of why the organist deserves his honorific title.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

Robert Glasper Trio – Covered

Robert Glasper Trio Covered._SY355_

Title: Covered

Artist: Robert Glasper

Label: Blue Note

Formats: CD, Digital Download, Vinyl

Release date: June 16, 2015

 

 

The Robert Glasper Trio’s Covered is a less ambitious project than Snarky Puppy’s Sylva, but it too trades on a creative combination of live and recorded modes. There has been a satisfying symmetry to Glasper’s catalog since his debut for Blue Note in 2005; his 2009 Double-Booked—a double album featuring both his acoustic trio and his electric quartet The Experiment—is a fitting pivot point from his first two albums to his groundbreaking Black Radio releases. This sixth album sees him reuniting with his original trio, featuring Vicente Archer on bass and Damion Reid on drums, but the repertoire and approach foreground the style and aesthetic he has cultivated through his more recent work. Covered was recorded in front of a live audience at Capitol Studios in Hollywood. It was released on CD, as a digital download, and on vinyl. Companion videos of each track have also been released, one every two weeks, beginning shortly before the album dropped. Unlike Sylva, the videos do not seem to have been produced as a full-length film; instead, they can be viewed on Glasper’s Vevo page, YouTube, or on Blue Note’s website.

The album is called Covered for a reason. Glasper states in the introductory track that he wanted the trio to interpret “things that are on my iPod,” and an eclectic set features tunes by the likes of Radiohead, Musiq Soulchild, Joni Mitchell, and Kendrick Lamar, as well as a couple of his own compositions, a standard (“Stella by Starlight”), and a spoken-word performance by Harry Belafonte. For fans of contemporary jazz, it is actually a pleasantly predictable collection of material. An affinity for Radiohead and Joni Mitchell among many jazz musicians is well known, as is the relationship between jazz and Philadelphia neo-soul. Glasper himself is probably best known for his new take on the blend of jazz and hip-hop, so the inclusion of the Lamar track as well as a new interpretation of his own “I Don’t Even Care”—which originally featured rapper Jean Grae—are not at all surprising.

This latter tune is a strong start to the album, featuring a compelling solo by Glasper that begins with a leisurely melody and gradually builds into frenetic, two-handed unison lines. Other highlights include “So Beautiful,” which tastefully incorporates a voicemail recording of Musiq Soulchild thanking Glasper for choosing the tune and explaining the message he hoped to convey with it, and Jhené Aiko’s “The Worst,” which works well as a single. (The video for “The Worst” was released first in advance of the album, a savvy move, considering the original song has amassed over 60 million views on YouTube). Glasper sounds at home on the soul tunes “Good Morning” and “Levels,” and knowing that several of these tunes were written by dear friends—Glasper and Bilal began as classmates at The New School—makes listening to them especially affecting. “In Case You Forgot” is a sharp departure from the rest of the album in both length and style. The performance shows off Glasper’s prodigious technique and depthless inspiration, and it provides some great moments of humor (as when he interjects snippets of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time after Time”—yet another pop tune familiar to jazz audiences—and Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me”). It is also welcome as one of the few times that Archer and Reid have opportunities to shine as soloists.

YouTube Preview Image

There are some unusual choices in the mixing of the album, moments where the interplay of the “live” and the “recorded” is a bit more awkward than intriguing. “Reckoner” has an oddly placed fade in the middle of Glasper’s solo, fading back in again after a cut to later on in the tune. Other tracks also end with fades, which elide the presence of the studio audience. Many albums recorded live seek to reproduce the experience of the original performance as faithfully as possible for home listeners, helping them imagine that they were there. This is not one of those albums. Instead, the value of recording live in this case is largely that it helped to cultivate a particular kind of energy in the music, privileging the spontaneous, unpredictable interactions between musicians and audience members, and reveling in the feeling of risk that comes from the knowledge that the first take is probably the take.

Covered may be most memorable, however, for its powerful commentary on and contributions to the current movement against racial injustice. The album is dedicated “to the victims and the families of those who were wrongfully killed by the police,” and its closing two performances insist on the urgency of ending state violence against African-American people and communities. “Got Over,” invoking the gospel classic, features Harry Belafonte reciting a brief version of his life story. Lamar’s “I’m Dying of Thirst” incorporates recordings of children reciting the names of victims of police brutality. The juxtaposition of the voice of an aging Civil Rights icon recounting his perseverance and those of children reading the names of young people whose lives were taken is brilliant and deeply moving.

Snarky Puppy’s Sylva and Glasper’s Covered are bold experiments in the complex relationship between live and recorded music, and both feature strong compositions, exceptional playing, and powerful messages. It is especially exciting that, for both ensembles, the majority of their music has yet to be played.

Listen on Spotify here.

Reviewed by Dean S. Reynolds