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In this age of acid jazz, trip hop and jam bands it's difficult for most listeners to realize just how controversial On The Corner was when it was first released more than 30 years ago, when fusion was becoming something other than nuclear and for most folk funk was merely an odor. Miles Davis had developed a cadre of dedicated disciples from the pot smoking-acid tripping Caucasian counterculture with the "Directions In Music" he cooked up on Bitches Brew , but the innovative concoction failed to attract the mass African American audience he sought. On The Corner was a conscious attempt on the part of the great trumpeter to do just that. One only had to look at the album cover's bold caricatures of ghetto icons like Helen Butte and Mr. Freedom X to know what side of 110th Street Miles' music was headed towards.
Motown bassist Michael Henderson was the fresh ingredient added to the Davis stew to make the music, still a blend of electric/acoustic, popular/avant-garde and urban/exotic elements, more appetizing to black youth. While his presence failed to bring Miles the mass adulation of black adolescents he sought, Henderson's contributions did more than subtly alter the music from a cerebral to a physical experience.
After a protracted absence from the scene the bassist is back with Children on The Corner to take his rightful place in the vanguard of the now established genre he helped to create. The cooperative group which also includes electric Miles alumni, drummer Ndugu Chancler, guitarist Barry Finnerty, saxophonist/flutist Sonny Fortune and tablas/ percussionist Badal Roy, plus keyboardist Michael Wolff, whose own group Impure Thoughts has been exploring similar territory, is a living tribute to the longevity of Miles' vision.
Rebirth , a 2002 concert recording from Yoshi’s, is an exciting document of how this music continues to grow. Beginning with a 21-minute excursion on Joe Zawinul's “Directions” the band explores the sonic landscape first unearthed by Davis. Fortune is scorching on alto and soprano sax, soloing with raucous abandon over the shifting rhythmic propulsion of Henderson and Chancler; and ethereal and earthy on flute, blending beautifully with Roy's funky eastern beats (which are brought to the forefront on “Oakland Raga”). Finnerty alternately weaves in and out of the rhythm section, emerging as a fiery soloist with lines at time reminiscent of Hendrix, Jerry Garcia and various James Brown axmen. Wolff shines on Fender Rhodes, B-3 and piano, particularly on his own “Tone Poem” and “Madimba,” where he freely interjects some Monkisms into the cannon.
The Miles compositions “New York Girl” and “Black Satin” are executed with similar aplomb, as is the uncredited “B-Flat Philly Funk.” The band displayed the same funky fire, with Victor Jones replacing Chancler, last month at Joe's Pub in a set that got off to a roaring start with a jamming “Foxy Lady” and then roamed freely through Milesean territory that sounds as fresh and exciting today as it did when it was first discovered three decades ago.