The idea is easy to dismiss at first glance. This is roughly the 127th Miles Davis homage to come along since tribute recordings became a widespread thing. It took a long time for the original On the Corner (Columbia, 1972) to gain acceptance with its thick relentless jungle-funk and lack of conventional melody, but it gradually became a touchstone that still stands without a scratch and impossible to imitate. Still, this one-off performance made a fresh and lively set for everyone there that evening in Nashville, and it's always a pleasure to hear a cracking group of top-shelf pros getting together to bring out the noise and the funk.
Any Davis tribute worth its salt has to honor his commitment to newness and invention, and this crew remembers to focus on the music in the moment without an eye on remembrance. Former Davis sideman Dave Liebman gets that part out of the way with a quick ramble before the music starts. (He must have a ton of further stories that would be great to hear, but that would be for a different time and place.) This live set exploring that Davis era is, fittingly, a shifting series of deep rhythmic vamps with room for everyone to contribute their particular thing. A pretty take on "In a Silent Way" provides a soothing intro, then it's on to a solid hour of deep-pocket grooves and sharp cooking chemistry.
It's natural that Chris Walters' electric organ will bring a dose of Herbie Hancock, or that James DaSilva is obliged to coat his guitar with more than one layer of wah-wah fuzz. For those familiar with the subject matter, though, it's more interesting to pick apart how things inevitably change. "Wili" lacks the crazy churn of its live reading from Dark Magus (Columbia, 1977) (which also featured Liebman), though that leaves room for this one to become a more nuanced and dreamy take instead. The formerly brief snippet of "Selim" gets stretched here to a seven-minute ballad for Liebman and Jeff Coffin to do some floating and crooning on their horns.
If the material has become too familiar for timeless or revolutionary new renditions, that's beside the point. Despite the associations with the past, On the Corner: Live! is a fine treat to keep most any electric fusion fan happy for an hour. The Chief would have been the first one telling us it's time to move on before too long anyway.
Lieb Talks About Miles; In a Silent Way; On the Corner; Wili (for Dave); Bass Interlude; Black
Satin; Selim; Guitar Interlude; Ife; Drum Interlude; Mojo; Jean Pierre.
Dave Liebman: tenor and soprano saxophone, wood flute; Jeff Coffin: tenor, soprano, and electro
saxophone, flute, clarinet; Victor Wooten: electric bass; Chester Thompson: drums; Chris Walters:
keyboards; James DaSilva: guitar.