An interview with
Yo Miles! is the name of the (variable) line-up assembled by US guitarist
Henry Kaiser to pay homage to the music of the electric, post-Bitches Brew
Miles Davis (i.e.,
the music of the period covering the years 1970-1975). A risky move indeed,
and for many reasons: first, a repertory whose coordinates were so different
from the more typical theme/variations development; then, the problem of having
to replace an instrumental voice of such an inimitable style as the one of
the deceased trumpet player - so: "replicate" or "innovate"?
(Both choices posed formidable risks.) And there's also the problem of having
to approximate those tense climates so characteristic of a then-new language
which was being created "in the moment".
say the operation was successful: both Yo Miles!, released in 1998, and the
recent Sky Garden, are well worth investigating.
The crucial factor is the choice of musicians, and here trumpet player Wadada
Leo Smith, bass player Michael Manring and the ROVA Saxophone Quartet
all deserve honorable mention.
thought of asking Henry Kaiser some questions about Yo Miles! Our exchange,
conducted via e-mail, took place last week.
The music of the electric-period Miles Davis - especially that
of the years 1973-1975 - seems to have been one of your formative influences.
Would you mind elaborating on this?
I grew up seeing that music live many times. I started playing guitar
in 1972. Seeing Pete Cosey play with Miles many times - maybe 10 or
12 times - was a big formative influence: suggesting freedom and discovery
on one's own personal way of playing.
In Miles Davis's 70s music the electric guitar was given a lot
of prominence. I know you saw the band live quite a few times: How did
you regard the way the guitarists in his groups worked, compared to
other rock and fusion groups of the time?
They improvised more.
You've collaborated with ROVA since way back. Were you aware of
their appreciation of the music of Miles Davis from this particular
The "scandal" of Miles Davis going electric might be
compared to the impact provoked by Ornette Coleman's "free jazz".
In the current period, do you consider it a possibility that a new musical
innovation could provoke as widespread and genuine a furore in the press
No - because today's corporate-owned media would just ignore it.
On both Yo Miles! albums there's a lot of guitar work - and many
guitarists. How did you decide who was gonna play what? (By the way,
who plays the part so reminiscent of John McLaughlin in the track Gemini
Double Image on Sky Garden?)
That is me doing a parody of McLaughlin on the YM! Gemini Double
Image and intentional PARODY, to be funny but it still works as music,
To answer the first part: Wadada directs his own tunes in YM! and
I mostly direct the Miles tunes. So, either I decide, or improvisation
and the spirit of the moment decides for us. We don't rehearse those
Miles structures. On all three YM! double CDs (YO MILES! UPRIVER forthcoming
in January) what is on the CDs is usually the first time we played the
tune, with not much planning. The music just happens; that is part of
the open system of this kinda music.
What's your opinion of the remix work of Miles Davis material
that Bill Laswell did a few years ago?
No comment. I will note that they had to recall the first CDs and
change a title and credits as they thought John McLaughlin was Pete
Cosey on one track. I know that Teo Macero hated those remixes.
I've heard that a Yo Miles! line-up played a few concerts. Were
you satisfied with the outcome? What was the audience reaction? Plans
We had a great time. The audience always loved it. I would hope to
do more - but it is an expensive band to take out...
Here is what we played on 4 selected shows:
OCT 21, 1999
YESTERNOW > RIGHT OFF > AGHARTA PRELUDE
MILES DEWEY DAVIS III GREAT ANCESTOR PART 1 > CALYPSO FRELIMO
> IFE > GREAT EXPECTATIONS > IFE
RIGHT OFF PARTS 4 & 5
HOLLYWUUD / BIG FUN
MARCH 4, 2000
HOLLYWUUD / BIG FUN
WADADA AND KARL > RIGHT OFF > YESTERNOW > CORRADO > DRUMS
AND PERCUSSION > BITCHES BREW
LITTLE CHURCH/SIVAD > AGHARTA PRELUDE
CALYPSO FRELIMO >
STAR PEOPLE > CALYPSO FRELIMO > MILES DEWEY DAVIS III GREAT ANCESTOR
IMPROV > BLACK SATIN > NEFERTITI > IFE > GREAT EXPECTATIONS > MAIYSHA >
SEPT 1, 2000
WHAT I SAY
JABALI > ONE THE CORNER JAM
JACK JOHNSON > IT'S ABOUT THAT TIME > WILLIE DIXON
SHINJUKU > MISTER TOON > WHO'S TARGETED?
IFE > GREAT EXPECTATIONS
GO AHEAD JOHN > AGHARTA FUNK > TUNE IN 5 + ONE PHONE CALL
Oct. 19. 2002
KARL & HENRY > JABALI > COZY PETE
AGHARTA PRELUDE fast > GO AHEAD JOHN 44 BAR BLUES STRUCTURE >
IFE > GREAT EXPECTATIONS AGHARTA
WHAT I SAY (superimposing
TOUGH ENOUGH > JACK JOHNSON (RIGHT OFF) > TOUGH ENOUGH > TIMELESS
> IT'S ABOUT THAT TIME > WILLI
The new CD seems to accentuate the groove in a way that for the
most part differs from that of the first album. Is this impression correct?
Different drummers with different individual concerns and approaches.
Even if the results were sometimes superficial, in the past we've
seen a process of "trickle down" from the avant-garde to pop
forms. Is it your opinion that a similar process can happen again?
That always happens.
Do you think that the thesis that says that a lot of ambient and
techno owes a debt to electric Miles holds water?
ABSOLUTELY, but mainly in imitation of details of timbre, texture,
and rhythm play. Not in method or structure.
Mike Keneally plays on the new record. (You first played together
in... The Mistakes, right?) What was the reason that made you think
of him as a potential player for the new album?
(right) YM! is a group of friends and Mike was the next practically
available friend up at the time. I would love to have Raoul Bjorkenheim
or Michael Gregory Jackson show up on guitar in future bands.
It seems to me you've always paid attention to recording techniques
- I remember your album Aloha, a quarter of a century ago, being recorded
in digital - and the new album is of the double layer type: CD/SA-CD.
This is my question: While on one hand we have more and more options
at our disposal when it comes to higher sampling rates/more accurate
recording techniques, on the other hand the "average consumer"
seems to care less and less about "fidelity" issues - and
more about issues such as portability and affordability (mostly meaning:
"free"). What's your opinion?
It will swing the other way, with the average listener caring more
about SOUND when the big record labels die and go away. Right now it
should cost the same to release SACD as regular CD. As technology advances,
better sound will be cheap. I think the sound of SACD YM! speaks for
itself. We just won the 2004 Surround Music Awards for "Best High-Resolution
Are you familiar with the article that Lester Bangs wrote about
On The Corner? (Just a personal curiosity.)
I have never read it or heard anything about it.
YO MILES! YO MARLEY. Bob Marley tunes treated like mid 70's MD. Stripped
to basics and opened up to become something new and surprising.
But back to Antarctica for me now as a staff diver in the United
States Antarctic Program - so that recording project will wait for the
Beppe Colli 2004
| Oct. 3, 2004