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Jeff Richman & Friends: Fusion for Miles, A Guitar Tribute: A Bitchin' Brew

John Kelman By

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Trumpeter Miles Davis shifted gears so many times during his forty-year career that doing a proper tribute which covers the entire time frame represents a distinct challenge. Perhaps that's why many artists have focused on specific periods in their Miles tributes. Producer Gary Guthrie put a new spin on Kind of Blue with A New Kind of Blue, while trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and guitarist Henry Kaiser's Yo Miles! project has released three sets inspired by Miles' '70s electric period. Even trumpeter Wallace Roney, while not recording a tribute album per se, has taken one of Miles' mid-'60s albums, Nefertiti, and used it, along with other sources, as the foundation for his own work.

In the past year, guitarist Jeff Richman has released tributes to saxophonist John Coltrane (A Guitar Supreme) and guitarist John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra (Visions of an Inner Mounting Apocalypse). He's probably the first to try and put the departed trumpeter's greater career arc into perspective. The problem is that there's little to tie together Miles' various periods. One reason for this is that whenever he moved into a new musical space, he often alienated much of his existing fan base. Fans of Kind of Blue are not inherently going to be disposed towards Bitches Brew, and many who discovered Miles with the pop-funk of his last decade may find his more abstract mid-'60s quintet completely unfathomable.

Consequently Fusion for Miles starts with an immediate handicap. The bad news is that Richman's arrangements—featuring a core band of keyboardist Larry Goldings, bassist Alphonso Johnson, and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta—don't go very far in finding the elusive common link. In fact, Richman often takes tunes that were the barest of sketches—for example, Miles' funk vamp of "Jean-Pierre" and the equally harmonically static jungle funk of his early-'70s "Black Satin"—and writes new passages to give them greater interest. While these radically altered and stricter arrangements give the guest guitarists more to work with, by its very virtuosity Fusion for Miles loses sight of one of Miles' core musical goals: creating specific vibes and particular feelings.

The good news is that Fusion for Miles is one heck of a great fusion record when taken on its own merits. It features a varied bunch of guitarists who range from the post bop sensibility of Pat Martino and Bill Connors, to more clear fusion from Jimmy Herring and Mike Stern, and the rock-centric approach of Warren Haynes and Steve Kimmock. Covering material from the late '50s ("So What") through the mid-'80s ("Splatch"), every guitarist digs into the solid foundation laid by the rhythm section. Unlike Richman's Mahavishnu Orchestra tribute, none of the core band members actually played with Miles, but the inclusion of one early-'70s Miles veteran, saxophonist Dave Liebman, on some tracks provides linkage. And while the individual tunes come from a multitude of spaces, Richman's arrangements bring them together for an album that is sure to please fans of pedal-to-the-floor fusion to no end.

Track Listing: Black Satin; Splatch; Jean Pierre; So What; Nefertiti; Eighty One; Serpent's Tooth; It's About That Time; Back Seat Betty; Spanish Key.

Personnel: Vinnie Colaiuta: drums; Alphonso Johnson: bass; Larry Goldings: keyboards; Jeff Richman: guitars. With Dave Liebman: saxophone. Featured guitarists: Jimmy Herring (1); Jeff Richman (2); Eric Johnson (3); Mike Stern (4); Bill Frisell (5); Bill Connors (6); Pat Martino (7); Warren Haynes (8); Steve Kimmock (9); Bireli Lagrene (10).

Title: Fusion for Miles, A Guitar Tribute: A Bitchin' Brew | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Tone Center


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