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Miles Davis Tribute Band: Rotterdam, the Netherlands, July 10, 2011

Miles Davis Tribute Band: Rotterdam, the Netherlands, July 10, 2011
R.J. DeLuke By

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Miles Davis Tribute Band
North Sea Jazz Festival
Rotterdam, the Netherlands
July 10, 2011

As bassist Marcus Miller noted during the Miles David Tribute Band set at the North Sea Jazz festival in Rotterdam, it hardly seems like Davis has been gone for 20 years. Maybe, he surmised, it's because the spirit of Miles lives on in all who were in his employ over the years. The spirit lives on for many fans, too.

To mark the two-decade anniversary of Davis' passing, the band is touring Europe (as well as some U.S. dates) and played some outstanding music on July 10 in Rotterdam, Holland.

This tribute version brought together Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, and with those icons on the same stage interpreting songs associated with their former boss, it was already noteworthy. Regardless of the outcome. Throw in funky bass master Miller, who brings something considerably different with his electric axe that, for example, Ron Carter would have brought with his upright, and add the trumpet of Sean Jones, who owns some of the hottest chops around, and you've really got something. Sean Rickman on drums was something of a wild card, but the multi-instrumentalist, who's played bass with Steve Coleman and MeShell NdegeOcello, filled the bill with technique to spare and a penchant for the modern sound these arrangements were suited for.

The music was superlative. These musicians didn't take the stage and play the music in the style reminiscent of the time in which it was created—Hancock and Shorter did that years ago with the VSOP band, and again after Miles died with the classic group (Tony Williams and Carter added), with Wallace Roney on trumpet. Jimmy Cobb has been doing the older style with the Kind of Blue band.

This band brought a fresh sound to the music, a contemporary edge that amalgamated many of the songs Miles Davis fans love, but presented them in a unique way. The merger of the music was highly arranged at points, with the band playing unison snippets from certain Davis chestnuts in the middle of some tunes. Also, it was played pretty much seamlessly, almost as a suite, one composition melding into another. But the arrangements were very sharp and contained great solo moments.

Hancock and Shorter are now elder statesmen in jazz, but are among the handful of its most creative talents. Doing this music in its original style isn't where their heads are at now—it never was where Miles' head was at—and the results were terrific.

The concert began with a slow, stately piano intro by Hancock, but the band quickly jumped in, Rickman and Miller stoking the fire for a version of "Walkin'" where a funky bottom led the way for excursions by Jones and Shorter, who played short, hip, choppy phrases, in unison at times and with quick trade-offs at others. Their bursts of energy set the tone for the hour-long set. From there the band flew into "Directions," thunderous and edgy, Hancock on electric keyboards now. Shorter was in excellent form as he dashed off short, quicksilver runs on soprano sax, snaking around the pulsating rhythms, giving way to Jones' sparkling explorations that swooped and swirled. His tone and technique were stellar.

"In a Silent Way" was the next segue, Miller laying down the familiar bass line with a thick, sumptuous sound. Again, Jones and Shorter both added the statements jointly but on different paths, all improvisations sounding good. Miller played some bass clarinet as the music slowed—his growing proficiency on the instrument showed as he glided, giving way to a serene statement by Shorter.

The last tear-jerker ballad of Davis' career, Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time," was reconstructed with a magical touch, Miller still on bass clarinet and Hancock sketching out the tune on keyboards, Jones and Shorter harmonizing the ballad with an ethereality. It had a searching quality as the musicians stretched the limits far more that Miles did.

Rhythms switched to African influences and soon Miller's bass was playing the familiar opening strains to Shorter's "Footprints." The song's composer danced over the rhythms in playing his well-loved head, and Hancock took off on an acoustic piano exploration that careened and cascaded in his inimitable style.

The set concluded with another of Davis' popular tunes from his final years, the simple but infectious "Jean Pierre," bolstered by the polyrhythmic funk of Rickman's drums. The drummer was up to the task all night and an important part of the steering wheel that negotiated all the subtle turns during the evening.

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