Henry Kaiser & Wadada Leo Smith/Yo Miles!
The electric, post-Bitches Brew Miles Davis (i.e., the period covering
the years 1970-1975, or better said - it's an analytically important
distinction - the years 1973-1975) was one of the decisive formative
influences for the versatile, multiple-approach guitarist Henry Kaiser.
A few years ago Kaiser decided to assemble a line-up that had to be
good enough to pay homage to the illustrious jazz musician by playing
part of his past repertoire and - more important - good enough that
it could use the same highly personal logic that Davis had used during
that (then-highly controversial) period. Without a doubt, the crucial
element was the trumpet player. Fortunately, the right person materialized
in the form of Wadada Leo Smith, a sensible and versatile musician from
the afro-american avant-garde. Smith was to be one of the key players
of the line-up alongside bass player Michael Manring, guitar players Nels Cline and Chris
Muir and the explosive ROVA Saxophone Quartet sax team.
in 1998, Yo Miles! was the first, excellent fruit of that idea, a long
double album that was the right reward for the efforts made towards
a goal that could have been said to be impossible to reach (who would
have bet on the chance that that music could be "reproduced"?).
First things that come to mind are the tracks called Agharta Prelude,
Calypso Frelimo and the medley titled Themes From Jack Johnson. But
the best piece for this writer was the long track called Ife, where
Kaiser appeared to remember another genre that he had witnessed during
about the same time period: "psychedelic cosmic rock", with
its guitaristic explosions.
some very successful concerts, Sky Garden is the new episode, with some
interesting twists. Whereas the previous album had been a normal studio
album, overdubbing included, here the whole group has been recorded
live, the way Miles used to do. This sounds like the right choice here,
with the percussive element - and the collective groove - more to the
fore when compared to the previous effort. About half the tracks are
not penned by Davis, though they appear to share the same aforementioned
logic. Again we have Kaiser, Smith, Manring and Muir, joined here by
saxophone players Greg Osby and John Tchicai, drummer Steve Smith, keyboard
player Tom Coster, percussionists Karl Perazzo and Zakir Hussain and
guitarist and keyboardist Mike Keneally, who had already played with
Kaiser in The Mistakes. The four ROVAs also appear, although quite briefly.
album opens brilliantly, with the reprise of It's About That Time/The
Mask, with a very good trumpet solo by Smith and a soprano solo by Tchicai.
The following track, Jabali (Part One), has a good groove. Penned by
Smith, the long Shinjuku could in many ways be considered the gem of
the record: nice timbral solutions, jumpy grooves, a vivacious solo
by Osby on alto sax and a very nice guitar solo (by Keneally?) starting
at 10'32". Then we have a very long (maybe a bit too long?) version
of Great Expectations, where the famous theme, played by the group,
alternates with some duets between Zakir Hussain's tablas and percussions
and trumpet, alto and soprano. Nicely closing the CD is a version of
Zawinul's Directions, which says a lot in less than three minutes.
the second CD is a medley of Sivad/Gemini Double Image/Little Church,
which brings us back to the album Live/Evil; there's a beautiful contrast
between the parts arranged by Steve Adams and played by ROVA and the
dry unisons between the drums and an electric guitar that's obviously
reminiscent of John McLaughlin. Maybe the least indispensable moment
on the album, Miles Star is followed by the long - and also Smith-penned
- Who's Targeted, the most "cosmic" moment, with its blues
guitars and the tablas conversing with Tom Coster's organ (Coster's
electric piano being the real glue of the record). The second part of
Jabali highlights Perazzo's percussions, while Willie Dixon is an almost
free duet between alto sax and drums. Cozy Pete (obviously dedicated
to Pete Cosey) is the collectively-penned final track, maybe not too
ambitious but definitely appropriate as the closing track.
closing, it has to be said that this is a double-layer album, with a
CD layer (the one that I listened to) and a SA-CD layer (which needs
a dedicated player). While in the liner notes Kaiser swears by the latter,
I can only say that the CD layer sounds very good, in some ways superior
to the already remarkable sound of Yo Miles!
© Beppe Colli 2004
CloudsandClocks.net | Sept. 14, 2004