In 2009 Kind of Blue
, the album that symbolizes jazz music for more people the world over turned an astounding 50 years old. Originally released in August 1959, jazz' most influential album is also its best seller ever; having sold untold millions of copies worldwide, it's turned quadruple platinum (4 million copies) in the US alone.
The 41st Voll-Damm Festival Internacional de Jazz de Barcelona celebrated the 50th birthday of Miles Davis' masterwork with a series of concerts featuring performers who worked with the trumpeter like Wayne Shorter and Jimmy Cobb, as well as younger players like pianists Omar Sosa and Chano Dominguez, who like most jazz players have been inspired by the landmark record, and held a prism up to the legacy of Kind of Blue. Using Miles' landmark record as a starting point, three concerts by Cobb, Sosa and Domínguez provided a fascinating triangle of approaches, three vastly different takes, on what they've drawn from Miles' opus, while also providing a window into their own original creative processes.
When asked to pay tribute to a towering classic like Kind of Blue, the choices often come down to a choice between two paths, neither of which are easy or guarantee success. Slavishly imitating an album, playing it straight, covering songs as close to the original as possible, is much harder than it looks, particularly when the band is this case included talents like Bill Evans and John Coltrane. This approach also means that your efforts will be compared to the originals, and in most cases suffer as a result.
On the other side, going as far away from the original as possible, making familiar material almost unrecognizable, means that fans of the original, who expected to hear something that they recognized, will be alienated. Even worse, some may feel that this approach is an insult or is ridiculing the original. Again, either way has potentially lethal pitfalls, and the bigger the original record, the greater the dangers. All of which made the three Kind of Blue concerts at Barcelona Jazz such a provocative experiment.
Omar Sosa Sextet, The Afrocuban Side of 'Kind of Blue'
41st Voll-Damm Barcelona International Jazz Festival
Auditori de Barcelona (Sala 2)
November 6, 2009
On Friday, November 6th, Cuban pianist Omar Sosa and his sextet, with special guest trumpeter Jerry Gonzalez chose the second path, namely taking the music from Kind of Blue into outer space. Steeped in Afro-Cuban rhythms and gestures, this performance was music for musicians. An inventive and versatile pianist/composer/arranger as well as inspirational onstage leader who dresses in white robes, has an easy rapport with the audiencenot to mention one of the world's most original hair stylesSosa's music routinely and successfully fuses elements of African, American and Latin jazz with electronica and even funk. Currently living in Barcelona, Sosa's take on Kind of Blue, commissioned by the project, was highly anticipated and filled with promising moments but in the end was perhaps too esoteric for it's own good.
For those looking for direct references to Kind of Blue, the most obvious was the first eight bars of the album's opening track, "So What" which returned several times, and seemed to float inside and over many of Sosa's original compositions. Rhythmically intense which turned too aggressively percussive in spots, Sosa's original music, often taking it's titles directly from the album's original tunes, "Soo W." and "So All Freedy," was chunky and clunky and sounded more like Mile's 1986 record Tutu than something inspired by Kind of Blue. Electronica flourishes and electric keyboard riffs dominated at points, though his mostly Cuban band, in particular drummer Dafnis Prieto (known to some in attendance as the "Cuban Billy Cobham"), couldn't help but fall into infectious Latin grooves at different points in the evening.
Bronx-born trumpeter Jerry Gonzalez who's currently living in Madrid, played with the Miles famous muted tone throughout the evening and while he added inventive accents and some decent extended solos, he was not strong enough to carry his part. An unusual instrument also made a welcome appearance when American saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum played what looked like a Musette but was in reality a Clarosax, an instrument made in the 1920's to make it easier for children just beginning to play the saxophone.
Perhaps the best part was Sosa's sly and effective use of samples of Miles exquisitely cool voice, a low growl so distinct that only has to be heard once for it to become unforgettable. In the end, while full of soaring moments and many inventive, imaginative turns, Sosa's take on Kind of Blue was hard to connect with, at times finding it's voice, at others getting lost in an unfocused, cacophonous vibe; that was still rarely less than intriguing.