Yo Miles!
Sky Garden

RUNE 191/192

double CD

audio samples
order CD

Yo Miles! was formed in 1998 to explore, expound and expand on Miles Davis’ mid-70s electric music. For Sky Garden, Yo Miles!’s 2nd recording and 1st release on Cuneiform, Kaiser and Smith have assembled an all-star cast culled from both the jazz and rock communities.

The lineup here includes Smith on trumpet; Kaiser, Mike Keneally and Chris Muir on electric guitars; Michael Manring on bass; Steve Smith on drums; Karl Perazzo on percussion; Greg Osby (alto) and John Tchicai (tenor and soprano) on saxophones; and Tom Coster on keyboards. It also features special guests Zakir Hussain on tabla, Dave Creamer on guitar, and the ROVA Sax Quartet.

This set is about equally split between Miles' compositions and original compositions in the electric Miles style. The group’s studio performance at The Site was recorded live, directly to a stereo DSD (Direct Stream Digital) recorder. The result is a set of two hybrid SACDs (Super Audio CDs, a new technology for enhanced audio quality) playable in either an SACD player or on a standard CD player.

All Yo Miles! recordings:
Yo Miles! | Lightning | Shinjuku

p r e s s   r e v i e w s

Henry Kaiser and Wadada Leo Smith
Yo Miles! Sky Garden

The Music Box, July 2004, Volume 11, #7

Immediately upon hearing Yo Miles! Sky Garden, it becomes abundantly clear that both guitarist Henry Kaiser and trumpet player Wadada Leo Smith, the collection’s creators, hold a particularly comprehensive understanding of Miles Davis’ music as well as his creative process. Given the duo’s own extraordinary talents, it’s not surprising that the set works as well as it does. In fact, they do such a masterful job at exploring the extemporaneous regions of the material that instead of merely covering the songs, they manage to encapsulate the brilliance that brewed them in the first place. From this, they also are able to orchestrate several new pieces that serve as a virtual aggrandizement of Davis’ remarkably variegated legacy.

Indeed, the basic premise behind Yo Miles! Sky Garden (as well as its predecessor Yo Miles!) was to utilize Davis’ compositions as a touchstone, thereby retaining the general ambience of the inaugural recordings, but otherwise, Kaiser and Smith jettisoned virtually everything else in order to rebuild the tracks from scratch. What’s particularly astounding — and what allows the endeavor to succeed — is that the chemistry of their assembled entourage mirrors that of Davis’ own alchemical ensembles. As a result, the collective is able to submerse itself within the primordial ooze that seeps through every nook and cranny of the chord progressions and bend each tune to its will as a means of formulating a pair of musical suites that not only waltz between the breathtakingly beautiful and the absolutely ominous, but also are equally bold, unparalleled, and full of organic luster. Simply put: Yo Miles! Sky Garden frequently feels as if the manifestation of Davis himself had a hand in crafting its contents.

- John Metzger

Sky Garden
Henry Kaiser/Wadada Leo Smith Yo Miles! | Cuneiform

With Miles Davis’ electric period finally gaining the credit it deserves, the number of groups recording everything from "music-informed-by" to flat-out tributes is almost too large to count. Everyone from Dave Douglas to George Schuller has, in some shape or form, created works influenced by Miles’ electric excursions. But when guitarist Henry Kaiser and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith released Yo Miles! back in ’98, it was clear that the bar had been raised. Without losing site of their own distinctive voices, they managed to create a tribute that completely captured the spirit of that controversial period, demonstrating how it has so strongly influenced what was to come. Now Kaiser and Smith have reconvened to release the next set in the series; Sky Garden is at once a continuation of the concept and an evolution.

Other than bassist Michael Manring, guitarist Chris Muir and the ROVA Saxophone Quartet, who appear on "Sivad," it’s an entirely new cast of characters, including drummer Steve Smith, keyboardist Tom Coster, saxophonists John Tchicai and Greg Osby, and guitarist Mike Keneally. The emphasis, this time around, seems more on interpretations of space. There is a richer ambience that is more textural, less intense. Pieces like the thirty-minute "Great Expectations" extrapolate on the open-ended terms of the original, but take it further with captivating duets between guest percussionist Zakir Hussain and Smith, Tchicai and Osby.

Sky Garden is also less dense. The first album was guitar-heavy, with Kaiser, Muir, Nels Cline, Freddie Roulette and Elliott Sharp creating a virtual wall of sound. There were also two percussionists and two keyboard players to replicate Miles’ thick jungle vibe. This time around, with fewer players, the music breathes more. The emphasis seems more on exploring the ambient side of Miles’ electric work that set precedence for much of the trance music heard today.

There is also a greater emphasis on original material; Smith contributes four extended pieces that are so right as to be virtually indistinguishable from their source. The final track, "Cozy Pete," is a group improvisation that is reverential yet completely modern.

Special mention needs to be made about Manring, who manages to bridge the gap between the hypnotic, almost naïve simplicity of Miles’ bassist of the time, Michael Henderson, and his more prodigious technique that never overshadows the essential groove of the material.

Sky Garden has been released as a dual-layer SACD hybrid, which means that those fortunate enough to have an SACD player can hear the album’s ultra-warm DSD recording. But to these ears, even the standard CD layer is remarkably rich and full. The most notable difference between Miles’ recordings and Sky Garden is the more pleasing sonic clarity and more spacious aural landscape. But recording quality aside, Kaiser and Smith have, once again, demonstrated that Miles’ electric explorations were truly ahead of their time; they sound contemporary in ways that few other, if any, fusion recordings of the time do.

- John Kelman

Henry Kaiser & Wadada Leo Smith
Sky Garden (Cuneiform)

This second, two-disk instalment of Kaiser and Smith's Yo Miles! group (preceded by the eponymous Yo Miles! in 1998) has all of the virtues of the electric Davis, plus a few of the arguable defects; specifically the meandering sprawl of some very long and episodic compositions, the likes of which are either fascinating journeys or aimless excursions, depending upon your point of view. (My vote is solidly on the side of the fascinating journeys!) 

As for the derivative nature of the whole enterprise - well, there's no dodging that bullet.  And if it hangs you up, I'm probably not going to change your mind.  Truthfully, Davis was there first, and was brilliant, and a genius, and all credit to him.  However, much of the Davis output after Bitches Brew was recorded live, and often none too well.  And everything that found its way to vinyl,  beginning with In a Silent Way (or earlier), was also cut and spliced half to death by Teo Macero, sometimes to smooth out erratic performances, sometimes for commercial purposes and sometimes just because the process fascinated Macero and Davis. 

In contrast, this second Yo Miles! collaboration was recorded live in the studio, with no overdubs or splices, using Direct Stream Digital (DSD) technology.  Even on an ordinary CD player, the music has extraordinary presence and clarity, plus the momentum and logic of a true live performance. But the real strength of this re-creation (which actually contains six new Smith compositions in the Miles manner) is the quality of the playing. 

Not taking anything away from the various musicians who populated Davis's electric bands, but in the years after Bitches Brew, the revolving cast was not always perfectly simpatico, and the musical direction itself was increasingly erratic, with Davis conflicted about wanting to be either on the cutting edge of the jazz avant garde or a bad mo'fo with street cred who could sell hundreds of thousands of units.  (In hindsight, Stockhausen and Dr. Dre probably didn't have much to say to each other after all.)  

But the post-Miles, post-fusion musicians assembled by Kaiser and Smith are seasoned pros who know the core Davis fusion sound inside and out and aren't burdened with the task of blazing the trail (and occasionally losing the way).  Nor are they, from the sound of it, victims of conflicting agendas and duelling egos.

Former free jazz warrior John Tchicai is a more than adequate stand-in for Wayne Shorter on soprano sax, and his smeary tenor is refreshingly idiosyncratic. Greg Osby (on alto) needs no introduction. Keyboards are really THE essential instrument in most of the Davis fusion canon, and the relatively unsung Tom Coster is alternatively ethereal, funky, harmonically playful and even profound on electric keyboards.  (His work on Smith's Who's Targeted is one of several brilliant extended turns).  Karl Perazzo on percussion and Mike Manring on bass are the perfect rhythm section -- heavy when they need to be, but more often slippery and subtle, leaving lots of space on many of the pieces, laying out for one or two beats (or measures), implying as much as they state.

As for the two leaders, Kaiser is an almost infinitely adaptable guitarist who can channel Hendrix, Pete Cosey or even John McLaughin with consummate ease.  Most often, he brings a heaping portion of grit and funk to the table, although he can certainly play pretty when he has a mind to.  Wadada Smith is the real surprise.  While certainly respected in the jazz community, he has a longstanding reputation as a cerebral theorist, and more than one critic has characterized his style as dry and introverted.  However, Davis's own playing, especially with his signature Harmon mute, was often described as fragile and introverted, if not cerebral or experimental, so Davis and Smith have that much in common.  And Smith can also be forceful and dynamic, with even more tonal exploration (smears, harmonics, growls, etc.) than was typical of Davis, but with experimental tendencies always subordinated to the musics flow. 

Smith isn't Davis (nor is he trying to be), but he's a great trumpet player who seems very much at ease in the electric fusion bag.  In fact, everyone playing on this CD, including part-timers such as Zakir Hussain and the ROVA Sax Quartet, seems to be having a blast.  The music is alternately spacious and intricate, lyrical and fiery, but always as natural and unforced as breathing.

If you're the kind of enthusiast who already has everything that the electric Davis ever recorded (including the posthumous box sets of the complete Bitches Brew, Jack Johnson and In a Silent Way sessions), then you might find Sky Garden a tad superfluous.  Otherwise, though, it's well worth picking up; a fine extended homage to Davis and joyous, powerful and poignant music in its own right.

- Bill Tilland


a u d i o   s a m p l e s

click links below for RealAudio Clips

1. It's About That Time / The Mask

2. Jabali (part l)

3. Shinjuku
56k RealAudio stream      DSL / Cable RealAudio stream

4. Great Expectations

5. Directions

6. Sivad>Gemini Double Image>Little Church

7. Mile's Star

8. Who's Targeted

9. Jabali (part ll)

10. Willie Dixon

11. Cozy Pete

© 1997-2011 Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith