In the mid-eighties I caught the great drummer Tony Williams’ band live. Williams, a member of Miles Davis’ second great quintet, had been making some pretty interesting music leading a band of youngsters including bassist Ira Coleman, saxophonist Billy Pierce, and trumpeter Wallace Roney. His music was a natural extension of those great sixties records and the Miles tradition. When the band took the stage my jaw dropped seeing the young Wallace Roney. He was the spitting image of the young Miles Davis. Although he didn’t play with his back to the band, I saw and heard the similarities.
The resemblance has been both a blessing and a curse. It has drawn attention to his smoking trumpet, yet also given fuel to his detractors. The Art Blakey graduate received the ultimate blessing when Miles himself asked Roney to play alongside, and to take many of his parts on a Quincy Jones conduction of Gil Evans’ arrangements in 1991.
His prior major label release Village (Warner 1997) was the precursor to this date, hinting at Miles’ Nefertiti, Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi group and even some early Weather Report. No Room For Argument gives us a fully formed concept. Roney, like Williams before him, is taking Miles’ concepts the next logical step. In other words he is advancing the music of Davis, who advanced Charlie Parker, who advanced Lester Young, and so on. Many may claim Roney to be looking backwards. Listening to this disc, I’d say he’s walking a street dedicated to Miles, one few have dared to walk or even cross.
The title track opens with samples of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Deepak Chopra and Marcus Garvey. Over the drum machine march, Roney’s muted melody speaks a continuous line almost in response to the samples. This opening blow signals this record is going to be forward looking and forward sounding, but with tradition in mind. Roney then follows with the bass line of “Love Supreme” and a melody from Miles’ “Filles De Kilimanjaro.” With this as a base camp, he climbs into a future formed from Herbie Hancock’s electric/acoustic years, Chick Corea’s Return To Forever bands, and the much loved/hated Bitches Brew. His band includes former Hancock Sideman Buster Williams, Corea and Davis sideman Lenny White and Davis sideman Adam Holzman. With the question WWMD (what would Miles Do?), Roney invokes the Miles admired music of Prince (and Morris Day’s Time) on “Virtual Chocolate Factory.” While the mid-eighties funk can get a bit silly, the fiery trumpet Roney displays makes you ignore the cheese.
This isn’t a fusion record in any sense of the word. Roney speaks authentic jazz. His slow/fast “He Who Knows” emits enough spark to be bebop, yet it’s filled with synthesizers. Herbie Hancock is conjured on ‘CyGroove” as is the organ/funk of Medeski, Martin, and Wood. Roney burns on “Neubeings” along with brother Antoine and wife Geri Allen. They mix hard bop with a Wayne Shorter-like composition for Weather Report.
Many criticize Roney for being too much like Miles. Now comes something more to hate, or love. Roney gives us a relentless hardcore electric record. If there is still a public audience for progressive jazz, let them digest, argue, and deal with this music.