VARIOUS ARTISTS / “Standards”
Miles Davis set a standard for playing standards. I though it would be interesting to compare and contrast how various artists played standards that were associated with Miles. As an added twist I chose both a vocal and instrumental interpretation. The songs are in the same order as the classic Miles selections. The result is a brilliant quilt-like aural tapestry.
01 Broadway My Way - Nancy Wilson
02 Almost Like Being In Jazz - Hugh Masekela
This is early Nancy and late Masekela, each of them a distinctive voice demonstrating divergent approaches. You can hear Nancy shaping her style, while Hugh sounds like he’s talking with his staccato phrasing.
03 Porgy & Bess - Ray Charles and Cleo Laine
04 The Survivor - Donald Harrison
I always enjoyed Ray’s Porgy & Bess album that did not receive the promotion and distribution it deserved. New Orleans saxophonist Donald Harrison lifts a bass riff from “People Make The World Go Round,” thereby demonstrating the Jamal/Miles modal vamp approach in a warm variation on the cool sound.
“The Surrey With The Fringe On Top”
05 But Not For Me - Ahmad Jamal
06 'Round Midnight - Betty Carter
For this one it’s off to the races with both Jamal and Ms. Carter reveling in their bebop roots.
“If I Were A Bell”
07 Land Of Giants - McCoy Tyner
08 Smile - Lina Nyberg
McCoy plays this closer to Miles than to Trane but what peaks my interest is the addition of Bobby Hutcherson on vibes. Since their early Blue Note Records days, Tyner and Hucherson have always made beautiful music together. Swedish vocalist Lina Nyberg is not very well known in the States but she deserves to be.
“Someday My Prince Will Come”
09 Dear Miles - Ron Carter
10 All Right Now - Dara Tucker
Check out how sensitively Carter leads his crew in exploring this signature Miles-associated song. I don’t know much about Dara Tucker but I do like the way she avoids the trap of making this song too sappy. Dara’s version doesn’t use the Miles bassline but she does do it as a brisk waltz and thereby keeps the proceedings swinging.
“Green Dolphin In The Street”
11 Live In Havana - Gonzalo Rubalcaba
12 Bop For Miles - Mark Murphy
Here we had two radical treatments. Cuban pianist Rubalcaba is absolutely monstrous in his arrangement and in his two-fisted approach to the electric piano. Gonzalo is so thorough-going in his recasting of the familiar song that he even calls his version “Green Dolphin In The Street.” And Mr. Murphy is just plain having a ball stretching out on this Miles tribute album.
“Bye Bye Blackbird”
13 Burnin/Confessin The Blues - Esther Phillips
14 Gimme A Pigfoot (And A Bottle Of Beer) - Nina Simone
Esther Phillips could make a blues out of The Lord’s Prayer. Every sound she makes is bluesy and this reading is exemplary of her inclinations; also you can hear how huge her voice was. Nina Simone the pianist is positively killing in this take in which she demonstrates not only her technical prowess but also her syncretic sensibility with blues-based solos with her right hand dancing atop classical figures articulated with her left hand. It’s both an amazing and a marvelous performance.
“My Funny Valentine”
15 I Feel Like Some Jazz Today - Eve Cornelious
16 Greater Than The Sum of His Parts - Eddie Harris
Ok, last week she claimed Flamenco Sketches, this time she blesses us with a Miles homage on one of his best known versions. I sure wish she would put out a whole album in this vein. She does far more than merely mimic Miles. Eve's voicing is far, far beyond imitation—notice how she adds new lyrics that give black references in a song that whose lyrics were originally euro-centric. And saxophonist Eddie Harris does his cool sax styling that is an update of the Lester Young approach augmented by Miles-like minimalism and long tones.
“Stella By Starlight”
17 Moods - Will Downing
18 The Warm Moods - Ben Webster
Will Downing dips into his smooth jazz bag, this is a version you might hear on urban radio. I find it interesting that Downing chose to reach back across generations for this song. I’m a Ben Webster guy when it comes to the tenor saxophonist of the swing era; the beauty is in the tone and breath control.
“I Thought About You”
19 Bluesy Burrell - Kenny Burrell (with Coleman Hawkins)
20 I Thought About You Live @ Vine Street - Shirley Horn
Here’s another round of veterans giving expressive albeit soft voice to mature views of romance. Coleman Hawkins is considered the founding-father of jazz tenor and here he demonstrates how tender he could be as he voices obbligatos behind the lyrical lead voicings of veteran guitarist Kenny Burrell. Shirley Horn is the master of the ultra-slow ballad; it’s damn near impossible to maintain momentum at such a slow tempo but Ms. Horn has the savoir faire to pull off this difficult feat of slow-swinging sensitivity
“Time After Time”
21 Duet - Biréli Lagrène & Sylvain Luc
22 Traveling Miles - Cassandra Wilson
A French, guitar duo in the Gypsy jazz tradition leads to the seductive stylings of Cassandra Wilson who read an arrest warrant and make it sound like a sexy invitation. Here Cassandra conjures and cast a spell via a pop tune that she infuses with far more emotional gravitas than the lyrics offer.
“My Man's Gone Now”
23 Plays George Gershwin's Porgy And Bess - The Modern Jazz Quartet
24 The Blues - Nina Simone
A quasi-blues given superb although emotionally opposite interpretations: the MJQ—precise, classically-based, the epitome of concert hall cool, and then Ms. Simone, who was equally proficient in classical music, but approaches this song as though it was one long moan announcing a devastating loss. Nina gives us a deep definition of hurt and heartache.
25 Solo - Vijay Iyer
26 The Inspiration – Inspiration
The end note is the Michael Jackson song rendered first as a solo by Vijay Iyer who is one of the leading pianists of his generation, and presented finally as an enchanting, a capella choral treatment. The group Inspiration was a Pennsylvania college group from back in the day.
And that’s it, except to say, yes, it’s ok, to hit the rewind.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
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