In paying tribute one must go beyond the obvious. Yo Miles! succeeds in doing so on the second release that tips the group's collective hat in the direction of Miles Davis. It would have been simplistic to let a tribute to Davis lie in the wake of his music. Yo Miles! has gone beyond the fundamental with songs that breathe the spirit of Davis to create an atmosphere that resonates with a fire and an essence of their very own.
Led by Wadada Leo Smith and Henry Kaiser, the band sees a shift in personnel from its earlier incarnation. This was meant to give the selections the vision called for, and it's all to the good, right from the opening salvo that sees Smith on a slight, funky edge, then opening the perimeter with a sudden long lunge and countering that surprise with melodic deliberations. Two tunes across, one swell loop and the circle is complete.
The element of surprise is not strained on Sky Garden. Take "Shinjuku." In comes Smith, the mute in play, his notes arcing and falling in slow motion, the mood captured and complemented by Tom Coster on keyboards. Steve Smith blows in on a drum solo, and then wham! Henry Kaiser rises in a hail of feedback, twisted and hard. When Greg Osby comes in on full cry, the sparks really fly. The music sparkles, the beat rocks. Coster and Michael Manring stir and ferment the mix and Kaiser returns to knead shape with blues licks and a heady dose of pyrotechnics. And if that wasn't enough, John Tchicai writhes and convolutes, his approach providing the final sinew.
Smith has another emotional turn with his deeply etched playing on "Miles Star," but Dave Creamer shines as he brings in a vision of his own on the guitar with a loquacious use of time and space in his multi-faceted approach.
Davis had Bihari Sharma on Bitches Brew ; here it is Zakir Hussain who brings in an articulate touch. Hussain is no stranger to the harmonics of jazz and improvised music, having played with John McLaughlin in Shakti. Hussain's conversations with Smith on "Great Expectations" not only create unusual and interesting motifs, they breathe fresh life into the art of dialogue.
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Personnel: Wadada Leo Smith--acoustic and electric trumpets; Henry Kaiser--electric guitar; Michael Manring--bass; Steve Smith--drums; Chris Muir--electric guitar; Tom Koster--keyboards; Greg Osby--alto saxophone; Mike Keneally--electric guitar, keyboards on CD1#2, CD2#6; John Tchicai--tenor and soprano saxophones; Zakir Hussain--tabla and percussion on CD1#4, CD2#3; Dave creamer--guitar on CD2#2; ROVA Sax Quartet on CD2#1