Yo Miles!

Shanachie 5046

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Yo Miles! comprises 160 minutes of music, presented in 2 CD-long suites developed from original Miles Davis themes and compositions plus an orignal composed by Wadada, and encoded in sonically superior HDCD format. It is the first recording to explicitly explore the alchemical implications of what Miles himself was doing in the peak electric period, 1973-'75.

To journey with them on their own expeditions, Wadada Leo Smith and Henry Kaiser created a core band with guitarists Nels Cline (of Geraldine Fibbers) and Chris Muir, drummer / percussionists Wally Ingram and Lukas Ligeti (son of the famous composer Gyorgi Ligeti), and bass guitarist Michael Manring.

On various tracks they are joined by Canadian pianist/organist Paul Plimley, Berkeley pianist Greg Goodman, organist John Medeski (Medeski, Martin and Wood), multiple sax virtuosos Bruce Ackley, Steve Adams, Larry Ochs, and John Raskin (ROVA Saxophone Quartet) and George Brooks, bass clarinetist Oluyemi Thomas (Positive Knowledge), lap steel guitar wizard Freddie Roulette, guitarist Elliott Sharp, and electronic keyboardist from the Grateful Dead camp, Bob Bralove.

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

p r e s s   r e v i e w s

On Yo Miles!, guitarist Henry Kaiser and trumpeter Leo Smith revisit the glory days of Miles Davis's mid-'70s electric jazz-fusion experiments. Accompanied by the likes of The Rova Saxophone Quartet, keyboardist John Medeski, and guitarist Elliot Sharp, Kaiser and Smith faithfully revive extended Davis compositions like "Black Satin" and "Theme From Jack Johnson." With a background of pulsing electric bass, percussion, a bustling reed section, and floating organ fills, Leo Smith does an admirable job emulating Miles Davis's distinctive trumpet sound. Kaiser's guitar consistently pushes the ensemble into a realm of heady improvisation, blending hard rock and deep funk influences into ambitious jazz structures. This lengthy double-disc is a fine introduction into the mystical methodology of Miles Davis and his most misunderstood musical era.

- Mitch Myers, Amazon.com

Many conservative "jazz" critics turned their back on it, at least at first. It was electric, while "jazz" was acoustic, they argued. Miles was "selling out" to the latest trend in music, psychedelic rock, they angrily said as they dismissed it.

Not everyone, of course, felt that way. Writing about the electric music that Miles Davis began making, musicologist Ralph J. Gleason concluded, "it's all in there, the beauty, the terror and the love, the sheer humanity of life in this incredible electric world which is so full of distortion that it can be beautiful and frightening in the same instant."

In retrospect it was Gleason, not the more conservative critics, who "got it." Miles Davis had chosen a new direction, one that evolved as he did, as the times did. Not only was it jazz, it was great jazz. Not only was it music, it was music for the ages.

Guitarist Henry Kaiser and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith pay tribute to the electric period of Miles Davis on a new CD called "Yo Miles!" and in the process have created more music for the ages, more great jazz.

Rather than simply recreate Miles' original music, they use it as it a starting point for music that has its own beauty, terror, love and humanity, music that is more about eradicating boundaries than it is about reifying established categories. While theirs is not the only tribute to the electric music of Miles Davis that was released in 1998 -- Bill Lasswell reconfigured many of Miles' original master tapes in a dub-like process for his critically acclaimed "Panthalesa" project that year as well -- what Kaiser and Smith have done does not try recreate or reconfigure Miles' music. They do not employ the same instrumentation, for example, that Miles did. Rather they have chosen songs, and other identifiable segments of jams and compositions, and jammed on them.

There is a palpable energy and spirit in these sounds, in part perhaps because the basic tracks were laid down in just three days of sessions in early 1998. Sure there was a certain amount of digital editing -- done by David Gans of Truth & Fun -- but that too is true to the spirit of Miles' electric period, whose albums were cut and pasted together from various sessions and concerts in ways more easily discernable to the listener than it is here. "Yo Miles!" sounds and feels like one big jam, even if it is not.

Henry Kaiser may be one of the most under-rated guitar players in the Bay Area. The man is truly a gifted player, and has very much developed his own signature sound. All those screeching and screaming notes, the long sustains and the frightfully fast flurries of sound all say Henry Kaiser when you hear them. And "Yo Miles!" is often more a guitar based record than anything else, as Kaiser gets help from Nels Cline and Chris Muir on guitars throughout the two disc set.

The core group of "Yo Miles!" band also featured two drummer / percussionists, Wally Ingram and Lukas Ligeti. It would be impossible to speak highly enough of Wadada Leo Smith's trumpet work, so suffice it to say that Smith has clearly been influenced by and pays tribute to Miles Davis, he does not merely mimic Miles by any stretch.

The collection features some spectacular bass work from the Bay Area's Michael Manring, who clearly understood that in this type of music less is often more. "Ife," for example, might sound like it is too repetitious to handle the 35 minute reading it gets here if one reads the liner notes and finds out it is nothing more than a seven note theme over a two note bass vamp, but that would be like trying to understand the Grateful Dead's extended "Dark Star" improvisations by saying it is only a two chord song. Like "Dark Star," writes Davis scholar Enrico Merlin, "Ife" "was Miles' primary vehicle for extended ensemble improvisation during the first electric period. It could take on many different forms, colors and moods from night to night." Indeed this version of "Ife" has many different forms, colors and moods in it.

Many guests drop in for various tracks here as well. For example John Medeski contriutes some organ on "Black Satin," while Bob Bralove plays electric keyboards and Freddy Roulette offers some on "Maiysha." Paul Plimeley plays pianos and organs on most of the record, and Berkeley saxophonist George Brooks, who is becoming famous for his Indian-jazz fusions, also contributes some of his trademark saxophones.

"Yo Miles!" explores the many faces of Miles Davis's electric music over the course of its two 79-minute-plus discs. There are ecstatic and chaotic moments, such as when the Rova Saxophone Quartet joins in on the "Agharta Prelude," and there are quiet moments of beautiful balladry such as on "Maiysha." There is also *everything* in between.

I recommend "Yo Miles!" very highly to everyone who digs electric jazz.

- da Flower Punk, pauserecord.com - Feb. 1, 1999


a u d i o   s a m p l e s

click links below for mp3 clip

1. Big Fun/Hollywuud

2. Agharta Prelude

3. Miles Dewey Davis lll - Great Ancestor

4. Black Satin

5. Ife

6. Maiysha

7. Calypso Frelimo

8. Moja

9. Themes From Jack Johnson

10. Wili (For Dave)

© 1997-2011 Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith