JAZZBO NOTES RECOMMENDED RECORDING
Oftentimes, superstar groups don’t really live up to their billing — too many egos jostling for space. The same is true for double CDs. How many concepts really require 150 minutes of music? To some degree, the second truism applies to Miles From India.
The concept of Miles From India has several elements. First of all, Miles Davis influenced and gave a major push to a whole bunch of careers. Also, Miles was one of the first jazzers to feature Indian musicians and concepts on his releases. That in turn emboldened other musicians to experiment with these elements in their own music. Finally, musicians from India are coming into their own as jazzers. This created a perfect storm for this project.
Unfortunately, producer Bob Belden makes a fundamental mistake, which I think he arrived at from commercial calculation. Even now, when Miles’ electric period is more accepted than it’s ever been, Miles’ most popular music is still from his “cool” period, tunes like So What and All Blues. I think Belden thought that Miles From India would have more commercial appeal if he included standards like these. The only problem is that So What and All Blues do not mix well with the way Indian musicians approach melody and rhythm. The musicians attempt to cope with this by performing So What in 5/4 and All Blues in 9/4, but it’s a non-starter.
Another thing that doesn’t work throughout most of the date is Indian vocals, even on the tunes from Miles’ electric period, but especially on Blue and Green.
That said, there is some startlingly beautiful music on Miles From India. The biggest surprise is that the most effective musicians are the Indian ones. Louiz Banks sparkles throughout on keyboards, especially acoustic piano, but he also does very well at utilizing the possiblities of distortion on Fender Rhodes. Kala Ramnath thrills with his intricate violin cadenzas on It’s About That Time.
Of the non-Indian musicians, Pete Cosey contributes a surprising amount of atmosphere on guitar. Dave Liebman, while not as innovative as Rakesh Chaurasia, is quite tasteful on flute. Wallace Roney, who has the thankless task of playing in the style of Miles Davis, doesn’t embarrass himself. Obviously, no one can play Miles like Miles, but Roney manages to suggest Davis without slavish imitation.
The only musician who really irks me is guitarist Mike Stern. He plays essentially the way he did back in 1986. Why does this bother me? After all, didn’t Miles himself essentially keep the same sound and approach to melody throughout most of his career? For whatever reason, whenever Stern starts his B.B. King on speed routine, I want to skip the track. In fact, I hated his playing so much on Miles From India that I cut out his solos on the CD I burned for my car stereo.
Aside from the musicians I’ve already mentioned, Chick Corea, Michael Henderson, Lenny White, Badal Roy, Adam Holzman, Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, Ron Carter, Jimmy Cobb, Ndugu Chancler, Robert Irving III, and many others also appear.
So, what would have Miles made of all this? I dunno, but my guess is that he would have dug the electric period stuff, and would have been amused and slightly contemptous at the attempt to shoehorn the Miles meets India concept into his late 50s material.
If you really like Miles’ electric period and Shakti, my advice is get Miles From India and put together your own mix CD from the best cuts. I managed to shave two flawed 70 minute CDs down to one excellent 80 minute CD, if that tells you anything.