With Wadada Leo Smith
Recorded at The Site, Marin County, CA
Mastered at Airshow Mastering, Boulder, CO
Bruce Ackley, Jon Raskin, Larry Ochs and Steve Adams are the ROVA Sax Quartet.
Approached without preconceptions, this third double-CD in the Yo Miles! series should be a sure winner for any jazz fusion enthusiast. Doubts will insinuate themselves only if the listener starts trying to draw comparisons between the original, electric-period Miles Davis compositions and the updated versions that form the bulk of all three of the Yo Miles! recordings, including Upriver - which on the first disk alone features "Go Ahead John," "On the Corner Jam," "What I Say" and the classic "Bitches Brew." It could be argued that the name itself invites negative comparisons. After all, tribute bands don't generally get high marks for creativity. But while the Yo Miles! sobriquet may be ill-advised, it seems motivated solely by trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and guitarist Henry Kaiser's desire to honor Davis' major contribution to jazz and funk history without wrapping the whole project up in a shroud of high seriousness and musical purism. Still, when all is said and done, the music should speak for itself - and this music speaks loud and clear.
What Kaiser and Smith have demonstrated with the Yo Miles! project, above all, is that the jazz fusion idiom essentially created by Davis (with a little help from his early collaborators and some inspiration from rock and funk influences such as Jimi Hendrix and James Brown) was a great vehicle for creative playing, providing possibilities both for tight, funky ensemble work a la Brown and extended collaborative improvisations. Of course, musical second-raters subsequently rode jazz fusion into the ground, but the Yo Miles! cast demonstrates that the form itself is still vital when it's in the right hands. Kaiser and Smith shine, as usual. Smith, who was once dismissed as a cerebral jazz intellectual, is ebullient and expansive throughout. (He also contributes an extended composition, "Thunder & Lightning," which is very much in the electric Miles mode.) Soloists on this CD are uniformly excellent - even relatively unheralded keyboardist Tom Coster, whose own jazz fusion recordings have generally been much closer to the mainstream. Here, he displays not only a fine technical facility on a wide assortment of electronic keyboards but also a creative imagination and taste for bold, adventurous musical statements. Greg Osby is marvelous throughout on alto saxophone, playing with both fire and intelligence. And how about John Tchicai, on tenor and soprano saxes? At this writing he is just shy of 70-years-of-age, but he not only feeds on the collective energy of the group - but obviously brings to the proceedings some of his own free jazz energy of the mid-'60s when he was playing with the likes of Archie Shepp, Don Cherry and John Coltrane himself. Michael Manring is solid and funky, as he has been on all three Yo Miles! recordings, laying down that deep bass groove so crucial to the electric Davis sound. Percussion and guitars are first-rate also, but harder to single out for praise, since there are two percussionists in the group (Karl Perazzo and Steve Smith), plus Zakir Hussain guesting on the "On the Corner Jam" - and no less than three electric guitarists (Kaiser, Chris Muir, Mike Keneally), all moaning, wailing and emoting in distinctive ways. Collectively, perhaps the most impressive thing about the Yo Miles! ensemble, aside from its infectious, nuanced funk, is the fluidity of the interplay among musicians. One might briefly lament the absence (or at least diminution) of the menacing aggression projected by some of the Davis groups, but Yo Miles! more than makes up for it with a beautiful, expansive sense of space, where every chord progression, rhythmic accent and timbre can be savored. These versions may have a bit less power, but they arguably display a whole lot more finesse. Still, take some advice and avoid the comparisons. Just put the disk(s) in the player and prepare to get down.
All Music Guide