Paying homage can be risky business, especially when the source is as seminal as Miles Davis' classic, Kind of Blue
. Comparisons are not just begged, they're expected. And how can anyone capture the magic, the confluence of events that put Miles, Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb together to create what is one of the greatest jazz albums of all time, an album that changed the face of music and pointed ears in a completely new direction?
The answer is: you can't. And producer Gary Guthrie doesn't even try. Instead, with A New Kind of Blue , what he has done is collect some fine players together with the purpose of reinterpreting Miles' groundbreaking album in a reverential yet contemporary fashion. If you can get past the fact that this is literally a track-by-track remake, and appreciate it for its fine playing that looks back while remaining firmly in the present day, then you're in for a grand time.
There are some notable differences. Without the length restrictions of vinyl the group, which includes trumpeter Randy Brecker, saxophonist Andy Snitzer, bassist David Finck, drummer Victor Lewis, pianist Mike Ricchiuti and, in an unusual move, guitarist Chuck Loeb doing a credible nod to how Wes Montgomery might have approached the material, has more room to stretch out. "All Blues" extends to nearly twenty-two minutes, and while this could be too much of a good thing, the group maintains interest by changing feels liberally throughout, in particular shifting gears halfway, following a tasteful muted solo by Brecker, to a more contemporary light funk before returning to the more traditional approach at the conclusion.
Brecker, Finck and Lewis are ideal choices, with broad reaches that allow them to embrace the past and present concurrently, while less-obvious choices Snitzer and Loeb, better known for their smooth jazz work, fit the concept perfectly. Guthrie eliminates the question of how influential Bill Evans' "Alone Together" was in the creation of "Blue in Green" by quoting Evans' arrangement for Chet Baker at the start of the track. And by placing Evans' "Peace Piece" at the start of "Flamenco Sketches," Guthrie proves what people have known all along: that Evans deserved more credit for the conceptions on Kind of Blue than Miles ever gave him credit for.
Purists may cringe at such a literal reinterpretation of a timeless recording like Kind of Blue , and to be certain, A New Kind of Blue is not destined to be a classic either in terms of its musical impact, nor in terms of the performances, which are strong but don't have the kind of "wow factor" of the original. But what Guthrie has created, with his g.org band, is an homage that sheds some light on the musical connection between Evans and Davis, lends a contemporary and extended spin to some ageless material and, quite simply, makes for an entertaining and engaging listen.
Personnel: Randy Brecker (trumpet), Andy Snitzer (saxophone), Chuck Loeb (guitar), Mike Ricchiuti (piano), David Finck (bass), Victor Lewis (drums), Gary Guthrie (producer)