Jazz CD Reviews
Miles From India – Various Artists – Times Square Records (2 CDs)
Published on May 23, 2008
(Artists include: Chick Corea, piano; Ron Carter, bass; Pete Cosey, guitar; Gary Gartz, saxophone; Shankar Mahadevan, vocals; Jimmy Cobb, drums; Ravi Chary, sitar; Badal Roy, tabla.)
When I first heard about Miles from India, my first thought was: “Another Miles tribute album?” Common sense says the best way to pay tribute to the man’s music is to let it speak for itself, but in the often-small market for jazz music, name recognition goes a long way. Thankfully, Miles from India isn’t just another attempt to capitalize on a dead artist’s legacy. Featuring Miles alumni, spanning many different periods, teaming with classical Indian musicians, the album takes Miles’ music to a place it only visited once or twice, and it makes you wish it had gone there more.
The first disc opens with Spanish Key, from Bitches Brew. The track begins with moody keyboards and an ethereal trumpet, followed by plaintive vocals from Shankar Mahadevan. Adding vocals to a Miles song is risky, but Mahadevan’s voice is more like another instrument, with the focus more on the sound of words than their meaning (not that any non-Hindi speaker knows what the words are anyway). The song loses its footing when the groove sets in and guitarist Mike Stern lets loose with some unforgivably cheesy guitar. While technically competent, Stern’s guitar tone has that squeaky clean sheen heard, among other places, on Steely Dan’s Gaucho album and on dozens of bad fusion albums from the mid 80s.
All Blues, the second track, is a delightful mix of classic hard bop and Ravi Chary’s gorgeous sitar playing. The sitar’s natural ambiance adds atmosphere without studio effects, Ife features Pete Cosey’s white hot guitar dueling with Kala Ramnath’s violin and the warm, rattling sounds of the Indian instrument ghatham, played by Vikku Vinayakram. Disc 1’s last track, Jean Pierre, is spoiled by Mike Stern’s insipid guitar stylings (thankfully Stern’s irritating tone is gone by his next appearance on Disc 2’s Blue in Green).
Disc 2 begins with So What, from Kind of Blue and the song’s opening coda is played with only the drums and voices of Selva Ganesh, Sridhar Parthasarthy, and Taufiq Qureshi. This is an interesting choice and it pays off, retaining the beauty of the song’s melody while avoiding yet another aping of the classic track. Blue in Green, mentioned earlier, is a treat as well, featuring Shankar Mahadevan again, this time singing the main trumpet line. Since Miles himself often claimed he was trying to imitate his favorite singers in his playing, it’s no surprise how well the melody sounds sung.
Miles from India is far from perfect, but it breathes life into songs that, let’s face it, have been kind of flogged to death. The way sitar sounds with a classic jazz quintet makes me wish more jazz musicians embraced Indian instruments for their odd timbres and tones. Miles himself recruited the tabla player Badal Roy (featured on Miles from India’s Disc 2) for his On the Corner sessions, probably because he understood how beautiful and mysterious the sound of these two musical cultures meeting could be.
TrackList: Disc 1 = Spanish Key, All Blues, Ife (Fast), In A Silent Way, It’s About That Time, Jean Pierre. Disc 2 = So What, Miles Runs the Voodoo Down, Blue in Green, Great Expectations, Ife (Slow), Miles from India
— Daniel Krow