It seems to be open season on Miles Davis tribute bands paying homage to his '70s electric output, which until the past fifteen years was looked at with derision rather than as the groundbreaking music it truly was. But few have captured the essence
of what the music was about. Arguably closest has been Henry Kaiser/Wadada Leo Smith's Yo Miles!, releasing two fine records that honour the ultimate nature of Miles' innovations without being strictly imitative. But, for the most part, these tributes have been by artists who, while touched by the indomitable spirit of Miles, never actually played with him.
Children on the Corner is another story entirely. Michael Henderson is the bassist that Miles recruited to move his music towards a funk vibe; saxophonist/flautist Sonny Fortune played with Miles in the years preceding his retirement in '75, most notably on the live Pangaea and Agharta ; Badal Roy's tablas were instrumental in building the jungle groove of albums including On the Corner , Big Fun and Get Up With It ; and guitarist Barry Finnerty played on Miles' comeback record of '81, Man with the Horn. Fleshing out Children on the Corner are drummer Ndugu Chancler, whose work with Herbie Hancock's Mwandishi band places him at two degrees of separation; and keyboardist Michael Wolff, whose CV is more varied, but who clearly understands the Miles '70s concept.
Recorded at Yoshi's in Oakland, Rebirth shows where Miles' '70s explorations might have gone had he continued to pursue them, in no small part due to Henderson's still groove-centric lines, which take a tune like Joe Zawinul's "Directions" and give it a deep jungle edge. Chancler may not have played with Miles, but he fits hand-in-glove with Henderson, and their pairing is what gives Rebirth its credibility. Finnerty, a fine fusion guitarist, does an admirable job copping the rhythmic eccentricities of Pete Cosey and Reggie Lucas, although his solos tend to be perhaps too direct. Wolff is at his best on organ; when he switches to acoustic piano, the texture is simply too delicate and the music loses its abstruseness. Roy's tablas add that extra layer of opacity, although he is sometimes overwhelmed by the sheer power of the rest of the group.
Aside from Chancler and Henderson's concentrated rhythms, the real star of the show is Fortune, who has proven himself over the past four decades to be a versatile and impassioned player. His soprano saxophone on the profound and dangerous "New York Girl Part I" demonstrates that he has lost none of his inventive playfulness. And it seems that when he is soloing, Finnerty and Wolff are at their best alsoWolff creating outré harmonic washes that push Fortune in new directions, Finnerty layering funky rhythmic motifs that blend perfectly with the rhythm section.
Rebirth , with its thick and foreboding rhythms and Fortune's solos of reckless abandon, demonstrates that Miles' concept continues to be as vital and meaningful today as it was thirty years ago.
Personnel: Barry Finnerty (guitar), Michael Wolff (piano, keys), Ndugu Chancler (drums), Sonny Fortune (sax, flute), Michael Henderson (bass), Badal Roy (tablas)