Lee Barry: Miles From Mars

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Lee Barry
Miles From Mars

Um, what exactly is the "essence of 'Space Jazz?'"

That's what Lee Barry says he's trying to capture on his free online album Miles From Mars , combining a Miles Davis-like connection with a "spacey feel." There's also some notes at his web site about no preconceived notions, throwing strangely bitter things in the mix and not necessarily "organizing sound with melody, harmony and rhythm."

Sounds like listeners are about to blast off into an exciting journey of daring avant-garde fusion—or a bumbling navigation through inept New Age fluff.

Can you say "I'll take what's behind door number two?"

Kudos to Barry for offering a number of works online and for his obvious skills as a musician, but this is nothing more than the electronic/trance music that dominates free instrumental music available on the internet. He gets a few words here not because he's more deserving, but because he's one of the few to pitch such work as jazz—in the Davis tradition, no less—making it more likely he'll draw web heads who visit the likes of this site. In truth, they could do worse than this album—it's soothing enough during those pre-coffee Monday morning moments—and they'll at least get an idea of what they'll encounter a lot of while searching for true jazz among all the freebies.

The main problem is the album basically feels like a bunch of synthesizer textures backing up various lead instruments engaged in aimless noodling rather than actual improvisation. There's very little Miles-like about it, which may be most obvious on the title track where Barry plays a simplistic trumpet line that doesn't compare in any way to the master other than they are both the same instrument.

Most of the tracks are so synth-drenched there's little point in singling them out, but two of the less cluttered and more interesting offerings are "Approach To Ganymede," sort of an upbeat Tangerine Dream-like bit where Barry at least finds a voice on several instruments; and "Noon Dreams," which could pass as a smooth jazz piano/guitar piece—if one more synth layer were removed.

Being critical of someone who's giving their work away seems terribly unfair, of course, but evaluating it on anything less than the same scale as regular albums does a disservice to listeners. In this case Miles From Mars doesn't cut it in the field of jazz. Those with high-speed connections, plenty of storage space and an interest in ambient music might as well grab it—they have nothing to lose—while others will probably be satisfied just getting their feet wet on a couple of the better pieces. As for Barry, he's got the skill to deliver an album in the spirit he promises here, so it may be worth keeping an eye on future works.

Tracks: Time Warp; Ice Moons; Approach To Ganymede; Splat; Miles From Mars; Noondreams; Hot Blue Star; Amnesia; Space Emperor; Io.

Personnel: Lee Barry, all instruments

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