EVE CORNELIOUS / “Flamenco Sketches”
This whole week of BoL is dedicated to Kind of Blue. We’ve got the whole album in the jukebox along with different versions of each of the five songs from Kind of Blue. I have rather arbitrarily divided some of the versions into contemporary and some as covers. My internal guideline was simple. The contemporary represent people who offer a radical take on the music and the covers are people doing the music in the Kind of Blue vein. But it’s not exactly that way all the way, hence the contemporary features vocalist Eve Cornelious in what most people would consider an interpretation that is in the Kind of Blue vein. So let me try to explain and I’ll go in the order the songs are on the album so I’ll get to Eve last. Conrad Herwig is a modern trombonist. His thing is doing Latin arrangements of jazz classics. He’s got an album of Trane tunes in addition to his Miles album, Another Kind of Blue (The Latin Side of Miles Davis). Herwig’s version of “So What” is both faithful and iconoclastic. The opening feels just right (it’s in the Gil Evans bag) but then the Latin percussion kicks in and for a second we’re lost. How is this “So What”? But after they state the theme, it’s obvious and the solos are strong and the rhythm is kicking and it’s wonderful. Next, in a contemporary bag, is UK guitarist Ronny Jordan doing a hip-hop influenced take on “So What.” By no means is it meant to be a homage to Miles musically. Ronny works just like a DJ sampling, cutting and scratching. I was kind of hearing Guru blowing over Ronny’s guitar licks with beats supplied by DJ Krush (from the album Bad Brothers). I’ve yet to find a version of “Freddie Freeloader” that feels contemporary to me, so it’s on to the next tune “Blue In Green.” When I started researching versions of the songs on Kind of Blue, I was really surprised to find that of all the tracks, "Blue in Green" was the one that had generated the largest number of hip interpretations. I would have guessed “So What” but, no, it’s this deep ballad. I think “Blue in Green” taps into something intimate. Back in the fifties I lived with my grandparents. They had a big chinaball tree in the side yard. As a pre-teen, I used to lay in the grass under the tree looking up at the sky through the leaves on the tree. So you know what colors I saw. Any music that reaches that far into you undoubtedly moves us at primal levels of consciousness and subconsciousness. Trumpeter Russell Gunn did what I consider near impossible: he updated the song without losing the emotional impact. It’s completely different from the original (that triangle tinkling way up front, the back beats, the electric bass, the echo effects on his trumpet, the electronic keyboard layers, etc.) but yet, somehow it also taps into the feel of Kind of Blue, indeed, this might have been titled "Son of 'Blue in Green'.” (The album actually is Russell Gunn Plays Miles.) Plus, I like Gunn’s horn work even though he doesn’t sound like Miles specifically. Gunn's sound has a similar impact to Miles; he's moving you with emotional connections rather than by dint of technical brilliance. Gunn has this slurring, fat, round sound that is both brooding and simultaneously attractive; he sounds like Biggie Smalls if Biggie had played trumpet. Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba mixes Trane’s intensity with Bill Evan’s minimalism on "Blue in Green" from his album The Blessing. Most of the time Gonzalo is on the quiet side but then he drops these brilliant long runs in the middle of the molasses tempo like as if he recorded the solo at different times. The contrast of the quiet, unhurried stroking of the ivories with the moments when he spins out these lines like he’s fly fishing (you know how anglers gracefully swirls the line around in all kinds of arcs, twirls, and whatnot as they cast out the lure and bait? Well, that’s how I hear those moments when Gonzalo whips up and down the keyboard), that contrast of still water reflection with moments of rapid-running trills is awesome. Trombonist Steve Turre blows conch shells on his version of “All Blues” from the album Rhythm Within. Indeed, he additionally uses five other people playing shells to give this distinctive sound to his interpretation. That’s trumpeter Jon Faddis, trombonists Robin Eubanks (who takes the trombone solo also), Douglas Purviance, Frank Lacy, and Jamal Haynes who all double on shells. Faddis is, by the way, a Dizzy Gillespie disciple and his trumpet solo is totally unlike anything Miles might have done. Also, that's Herbie Hancock on piano. Here, rather than a Latin percussion bed we get African and Afro-Cuban percussion provided by Kimati Dinizulu and Milton Cardona. Needless to say, one does not think of Miles with this version and yet the connection is still very much there. And finally we get to Eve Cornelious acing “Flamenco Sketches” from her album I Feel Like Some Jazz Today. Eve is righteously accompanied by her pianist husband Chip Crawford leading a trio and providing arrangements. I was immediately imprerssed by the level of musicanship. At first I was thinking of this as simply a cover but then I started appreciating the lyrics. Eve was not content to imitate the sound. These lyrics break into a whole other space. First they are not your standard rhymes. Nor are the lyrics a simple boy/girl narrative. What we have here are philosophical musings on the meaning of life orated vocalese style (i.e. fitting words to instrumental solos). By the midway point I was awestruck. This was better than I ever imagined it could be. But then in the last minute, Eve ups the ante, puts everything on the table and does a take-off on the Bill Evans single-note solo. Sublime. This is the most arresting, most alluring, most intelligent, most enchanting interpretation of a Miles Davis composition I’ve yet to hear. I don’t expect vocalists to go where Eve reaches: usually words don’t go there. I wish I could report the whole album is that great. The album is good but it’s difficult to sustain this level of musicianship. (Which is another reason that Kind of Blue is a masterpiece: the musicians sustain that rarified level of playing throughout the album.) I can tell you that Eve does do another Miles number and does it to death. She nails Miles’ version of “My Funny Valentine”—I promise we’ll get to it soon on BoL, meanwhile, isn’t Eve's interpretation of "Flamenco Sketches" an absolutely gorgeous way to end this week’s jukebox? —Kalamu ya Salaam This is getting better and better I'm going to take these one by one. Conrad Herwig - "So What" This is the best kind of cover: one that retains notable aspects of the original while doing something completely different as well. The strongest aspect of it is the Latin-esque arrangement though. I find the playing — particularly the horn-work — not quite fiery enough. The execution doesn't quite measure up to the promise. Still, it's a good one. Ronny Jordan meets DJ Krush - "So What" I don't know anything about Ronny Jordan, but I do have other stuff by DJ Krush that I like a lot. In fact, I've previously posted Krush's cover of the Wailers' "Sun Is Shining." That said, this version of "So What" is terrible. The beat is limp and boring. The playing is unspirited and uninspiring. If the original is a fine vintage wine, this cover is screw-top swill. I'm having a hard time listening all the way through even once. Russell Gunn - "Blue In Green" I suppose this is the 'Grown & Sexy' version of "Blue In Green." I find it somewhat cheesy — if I had to listen to it consecutively more than once, I'd probably call it 'cloying.' That said, it's not necessarily unlikeable. It's as if I'm really thirsty for a fresh-brewed iced tea but the closest thing I can get is a Sprite. It's overly sweet and slightly artificial-tasting, true. But it is refreshing. And while I know there are better things out there for me to be drinking, in the final analysis, I'll have one. With a lot of ice. Gonzalo Rubacalba - "Blue In Green" I agree with Kalamu's assessment of this one. I'm still trying to decide if I like it or not though. The complex runs might be ruining the mood. Or, they might be just what the piece needs to offset the relentless 'cool' of the rest of it. I'm undecided. Either way, it's a fascinating piece of music. Steve Turre - "All Blues" This is a great cover. I'm listening to these tracks cold — I haven't read anything about them. I don't know anything about most of the musicians. It sounds like Steve Turre is a voice musician, like he's doing everything with his vocal chords. If that's true (or even if it isn't), this is a very impressive recording. It also swings nicely, the percussion work has just the right balance of intensity and laid-backness, and the vibe is right. Good choice. ... I just read Kalamu's write-up. Conch shells, huh? No wonder I couldn't figure out what those sounds were. This is a nice record. Very good bass solo, too. Eve Cornelious - "Flamenco Sketches" Fascinating. I'm biased against vocal jazz, but I do like this. As in the case of Hendricks and Co.'s "Freddie Freeloader," the lyrics are well-done. That's essential. The singer (I don't know who she is) has a fine voice. The accompanists are able— I especially like the extensive cymbal work by the drummer. This is a good recording. ... Oh, wait. This is getting better and better. And oh shit! How's about that vocal/piano recreation of Bill Evans' famous slow-motion solo?! Wow! This is probably my favorite cover of all. Very, very good. ... Of course, Kalamu ended up explaining some of the things I didn't know about this record, but I decided to leave my initial reactions in there because it's funny how we heard basically the same thing. And, it's funny that we reacted the same way to the record's later developments. Of this batch, Eve's cover definitely deserves to be the feature. —Mtume ya Salaam
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