Sunday, February 20, 2011

Yo Miles! More Than Just A Tribute...

Wadada Leo Smith (trumpet) / Henry Kaiser (guitar)
Yo Miles: Lightning (Three Records)
Yo Miles: Shinjuku (Three Records)

Originally released between 1998 - 2003, these two live recordings (a collection of tracks from albums Sky Garden, Upriver and Yo Miles) and were celebrated and derided within the avant garde jazz circle. Yo Miles was a series of three albums dedicated to the music of Miles Davis' 70s electric era material.

The albums might have gotten overlooked due to the plethora of Miles material that came out at the time (official reissues) and the Bill Laswell project Panthelasa (a Miles Davis remix album). I personally wasn't a big fan of the Laswell project although it has grown on me over the years. Yo Miles on the other hand, follows a different path. Smith and Kaiser assembled an all star line up including Zakir Hussain, Rova Sax Quartet, John Medeski, Elliot Sharp, Nels Cline, among many others to construct a dazzling collection of re-imagined versions of that era which breath new life into the already psychedelic, rock and funk monolith that Miles built over three decades ago.

Lighting and Shinjuku were two of the four releases that focused more on original material from both Smith and Kaiser. What's so amazing is, that the songs would easily sound at home on any Miles album from that era--especially Bitches Brew, Agharta, Pangea or Live Evil. "Cozy Pete," "Thunder & Lightning" and "Miles Davis--Great Ancestor" all exhibit that deep exploration for new sounds, rhythms, patterns and a direction that Miles was achieving with his epic albums of the time.

Kaiser and Smith seem like kindred spirits here. They along with the entire ensemble of musicians develop a synergy throughout the session that melds into one unified theme. You do get a spiritual vibe from these songs especially "Muhammad Ali," "Tsapiky Frelimo" and the all out assault of "Shinjuku" which could give Agharta and some of the tracks from On The Corner a real run for their money.

These two editions of the Yo Miles series originally came out on the label Cuneiform and almost as quickly as they were released they label folded. So these two records now go for a slightly hefty price tag if you can find them. Some stores like Downtown Music Gallery in New York City still have physical copies at a very inexpensive price.

Now in our digital age Yo Miles! Lightning and Yo Miles! Shinjuku albums are only available as downloads (you can find them on iTunes) but they are still potent and worth seeking out. Wadada Leo Smith and Henry Kaiser created a series which now after a decade is finally being truly understood (along with Miles' material 3 decades early) and you should investigate these two records fully. It's extraordinary and keeps to the spirit of what Miles had perfected. A beauty tribute that stands solely on its on a separate work altogether. Enjoyable again.

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