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Last year the Yo Miles! collective released Sky Garden (Cuneiform), a two-disc set that surveyed ("covered" trivializes its accomplishment) Miles Davis' brand of funky '70s jazz fusion. At over two and a half hours, it was a massive slab of music. Upriver is also a massive slab. And once again it begs the question, "Does the world need another 25-minute version of 'Bitches Brew'?
Yo Miles! speaks to the affirmative. The group is larger than the band Miles led on Agharta and Pangaea by a couple of guitars and an extra saxophone, but what Yo Miles! loses in menace and Ef You attitude, it gains in commitment, enthusiasm and virtuosity. Unlike Sky Garden, which was roughly half original compositions, Upriver offers only two: a three-minute group jam that is a drop in this bucket, and co-leader and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith's "Thunder and Lightning, which taps Miles' vibe and sensibility (and track time) without resorting to imitation.
Two other tracks in particular stand out. "On the Corner Jam puts Miles alumnus Zakir Hussain's tabla up against Greg Osby's alto, and the pair attacks the groove with mind-blowing inventiveness. On "Tatu/Agharta Funk, guitarists Mike Keneally, Chris Muir and co-leader Henry Kaiser fuzz-out and wah-wah as if they were competing in a cutting contest based on the "Theme from Shaft.
The rest washes over you like radiator heat. Kaiser has made a point of recording the Yo Miles! sessions to audiophile standards, and the band benefits from the pure, crystal clear, spacious sound. Michael Manring's fretless bass demonstrates what Miles could have done with Jaco, his notes vibrating like uncoiled springs, and Tom Coster's keyboards jab and punctuate shorter movements within longer tunes.
But I keep returning to Greg Osby, who, if you consider his marvelous trio recording Channel Three (Blue Note), had quite a year in 2005. Cut after cut, his perfectly formed and rhythmically conceived solos prove that Miles' influence extends well beyond the trumpet.
Track Listing: Disc One: Go Ahead John; On the Corner Jam; What I Say; Bitches Brew
Disc Two: Tatu/Agharta Funk; Tune in 5/One Phone Call; Corrado; Macero; Yesterfunk; Thunder & Lightning; Jabali (Part III); Black Satin (slight return).
Personnel: Wadada Leo Smith: electric and acoustic trumpets; Henry Kaiser: electric guitar; Michael
Manring: bass; Steve Smith: drums; Chris Muir: electric guitar; Tom Coster: keyboards; Karl
Perazzo: percussion; Greg Osby: alto saxophone; John Tchicai: tenor and soprano
saxophones; Mike Keneally: electric guitar)
Guests: Zakir Hussain: tabla and percussion on On the Corner Jam"; ROVA Sax Quartet:
Bruce Ackley, Steve Adams, Larry Ochs, John Raskin on Black Satin"; Dave Creamer:
electric guitar (CD2#8).
Jazz is a continuing revelation. The best show I ever attended was the
Roots Picnic at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia, or was it Robert
Glasper's Experiment at Lincoln Center, or was it Chick Corea with
Brian Blade at Oberlin College? Most of all I enjoy playing guitar and
composing beats with my Brooklyn-based group Space Captain.