A vocal celebration of Miles Davis
Singer Dennis Rowland pays tribute to Miles Davis on this interesting set. With Wallace Roney or Sal Marquez filling in for Miles and contributing short trumpet solos, Terry Harrington getting a few spots on tenor, and an excellent rhythm section helping out (pianist Joe Sample, bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Gregg Field), Rowland performs ten songs associated with Miles Davis. Unfortunately, all of the music is mostly from the 1956-61 period - nothing from the second quintet or the fusion years - so only part of Davis' legacy is explored. But the singer is in excellent form throughout the set, with the highlights including "All Blues," "I Could Write a Book," "'Round Midnight" and a lengthy medley of "The Meaning of the Blues" and "Lament."
- Scott Yanow (All Music Guide)
========= from the cover ==========
As Dennis Rowland's odyssey on record continues, more layers of his musical foundation are revealed. Nurtured in a music-loving family and steeped in Detroit's rich cultural milieu of jazz, blues, and rhythm-and-blues, his two previous Concord recordings Get Here and Rhyme, Rhythm & Reason reflect the range of his sound-world. With Now Dig This! Dennis Rowland focuses purely on his jazz legacy, signified by and embodied in the oeuvre of Miles Dewey Davis III.
None should find it odd that a jazz vocalist would pay homage to an instrumentalist, for it is a jazz axiom that singers and players share a symbiotic relationship, each drawing inspiration from the other. Davis' influence has been acknowledged by other jazz vocalists, especially Shirley Horn, but none have achieved what Rowland has crafted here: a full-blown, well-realized celebration of Miles.
Aside from considerable technical gifts. Miles Davis possessed duende: the ability to attract others through personal magnetism and charm. In other words, he achieved the highest level of musical communication, transcending lines and notes. Writing in Celebrating The Duke and Louis, Bessie, Billie, Bird, Carmen, Miles, Dizzy and Other Heroes (1975), the late Ralph Gleason astutely surmised "The immediacy of communication that makes all good jazz has never been more highly developed than in the work of Miles Dewey Davis." No matter the setting, whether high-velocity swing, the bluest blues or a heartfelt ballad, Davis touched hearts.
Intimate communication is, likewise, the key to Dennis Rowland's success. His dynamic stage presence, masterful showmanship, wide-ranging repertoire, formidable technique and, most of all,sincerity are all brought to bear in Now Dig This! The up-tempo selections hit the spot, and the ballads-the recording's emotional center-move into the realm of unfettered emotion. Rowland's celebration opens with the classic All Blues. In 1959 Davis' Kind Of Blue (Columbia) shook up the jazz world, heralding the preeminence of modal forms which had been introduced by Davis the previous year. Favored by singers (with lyrics by the under-appreciated Oscar Brown, Jr.), All Blues, however, is the blues-a moody and ethereal, yet swinging blues dance. Rowland sets a stately pace, abetted by trumpeter Wallace Roney's evocation of the Davis sound and pianist Joe Sample's stealthy accompaniment.
It is Sample who kicks off Pfrancing, quoting from pianist Wynton Kelly's introduction, found on the soulful Someday My Prince Will Come session (Columbia, 1961.) Long a favorite among players, and more commonly known as "No Blues," this joyous opus finds Rowland in a state of wordless invention,obviously happy enough about the whole thing to give the band a big piece of the action. Trumpeter Sal Marquez (on open horn) unleashes an explosive solo, tenor saxophonist Terry Harrington takes a stroll over the bass lines and producer Gregg Fields' pliant drums before Sample kicks in. Berghofer, the rock-solid soul of discretion throughout the session, really finds the groove.
I Could Write A Book, released on Relaxin' With The Miles Davis Quintet (Prestige, 1956), is a reminder that the trumpeter helped reshape the jazz songbook by championing show tunes as a primary song source for the improviser. Rowland wisely slows the tempo of this most literate of show tunes, written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart for the 1940 show Pal Joey, eschewing the quintet's breakneck tempo to allow his band to reveal the song's innate, subtle charms. Once again. Sample soars.
Charming is a fitting appellation for the lovely waltz Someday My Prince Will Come (the title selection from the Davis session that also features Pfrancing). Although the song is quite obviously written from a woman's standpoint, Rowland is not deterred. He turns the lyric around to a male point-of-view and adds a scat chorus to make a very personal statement on this winsome tune. These swinging excursions, however, are just the tip of the iceberg. As alluded to earlier, this celebration's emotional center lies in the heart of select ballads that Davis recorded between 1953 and 1961-phosphorescent ballads, emitting light without burning, yet burning slowly without appreciable heat. Rowland steps into this paradox fearlessly, with full-throated assurance, unerring in his approach. Just listen to him navigate the contours of My Ship. Written for the 1941 Broadway production Lady In The Dark, it remains one of the lovelies! moments in American popular song. Rowland reads the lyric, seemingly with Miles at his shoulder, vivifying Kurt Weill's luminous melody and Ira Gershwin's simple, heartfelt lyric. From Miles Ahead (Columbia, 1957), the same epochal Davis-Gil Evans orchestral sessions that produced My Ship, Rowland has also chosen the melancholy The Meaning of the Blues, following it, just as Davis and Evans did,with trombonist J.J. Johnson's Lament. Rowland, using deft manipulations of rhythm and vocal coloration to evoke the song's inherent heartache, gives way to Roney, who searches the stately blue landscape of, arguably, Johnson's finest composition.
It should be noted again that the players chosen for Now Dig This! attend to Rowland, as well as the music, with loving care, weaving a supple sound tapestry on which he can stretch out. Nowhere is this more evident -than on Easy Living, that hymn to love and devotion first brought into our hearts by Billie Holiday in 1937 (and waxed by Miles with Charles Mingus and Elvin Jones, among others, in 1955.) Yet again, Joe Sample's blue-hued responses enhance Rowland's low-key delivery,made even more effective by his pinpoint diction. Digging even more deeply, the vocalist assays one of jazz' most beloved compositions, 'Round Midnight. The Thelonious Monk/Cootie Williams/Bernie Hanighen masterpiece inspired Davis to commit at least four versions to wax, but most revered is the 1956 Coltrane-Garland-Chambers-Jones quintet's from 'Round About Midnight (Columbia). With so much history about, lesser artists might falter, but Rowland and Marquez, especially, are majestic. That blue feeling also permeates You Don't Know What Love Is, arguably the session's apex. Just as Horace Silver, Percy Heath and Kenny Clarke were to Miles in 1954, Sample, Field and Berghofer are beyond reproach here, enhancing the vocalist's mood. Each of Rowland's phrases patiently unfolds a story as old, and as common, as the ages-love gone awry.
With Now Dig This! Dennis Rowland offers a moving vocal celebration of the music and aura of Miles Davis. He has done so by avoiding pastiche, by not trying to cover the many phases of Davis' storied career. That would have been a mistake. Wisely, he has chosen the material that matters most to him-show tunes (both swinging and ballad tempo), the 'blues and the jazz originals. By doing so, he has fashioned an intimate, personal tribute, not a catalog or an encyclopedia. And in turn, he has expanded the perspective by a few significant degrees on who Dennis Rowland is.
- Andrew Rowan