When it comes to popular music, I shy away from all-star tribute discs. It has been my experience that they are uniformly bad with the exception of one or two superb performances (such as Buddy Guy?s ?Red House? on Stone Free: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix
, Warner Brothers 45438). Jazz tributes have a better chance of having superb performances because of the improvisatory nature of the music and general superior musicianship of the jazz player. The newest Miles Davis tribute, coming on the heels of Shirley Horn?s I Remember Miles
(Verve 557199), Endless Miles
, is a tribute organized to celebrate the inauguration or the official Miles Davis website (http://www.milesdavis.com.). The tribute was held on what would have been Davis' 72nd birthday (May 26, 1998) at Birdland in New York City.
Names Everywhere. Before even discussing musicians, a look at those in the background is in order. This disc is produced by Michael Cuscuna, Phil Ramone, and Bob Belden (the former and latter most closely associated with Blue Note Records and Mosaic Records). The CEO of N2K Encoded Music is Larry Rosen, cofounder with Dave Grusin of GRP records. This is a provocative and exciting group of people running things. But enough of this production frivolity.
Casual Observations. The all-star cast that was on hand for the festivities may be read below. In keeping with their Post Bop roots, they tend to take all of the older material at a faster tempo than the originals, just as Miles had as he was moving toward and developing his second great quintet. The performances are all around are tight as a drum. Wallace Roney really does not sound like Miles to me, except perhaps in spirit. His tone is sharper and more aggressive. All of the older material (?So What? and ?Walkin??) is played pretty straight, with the exception of ?My Funny Valentine? which is a Tenor/Piano Duet between George Coleman and Harold Mabern. I found all of the newer material exciting. The second quintet?s ?Nefertiti? and ?The Sorcerer? were intense and spirited.
Alpha est et O. The real treats are what I consider the beginning and the end of Miles? Electric Period, ?In a Silent Way? and ?Tutu.? The former is as dreamy or dreamier than the original and encouraged me to listen to the original again (a thousand times). ?Tutu?, Marcus Miller?s composition, is just plain fun. I rediscovered this little jewel recently listening to Marcus Miller?s live album Live and More (GRP 9908). Bob Berg?s tenor takes center stage in guiding ?In a Silent Way?, with no trumpet to be found. The piece is ethereal. Wallace Roney provides the wonderfully slinky muted trumpet introduction to ?Tutu? before moving to his elastic open bell solo.
This is a much better than average tribute disc in general and belongs in the same company as other fine Miles tributes, such as Joe Henderson?s so Near, So Far (Musings For Miles) (Verve 517674) and the previously mentioned Shirley Horn disc.