Miles Electric Band: Bitches Brew To Tutu
Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014
Miner Auditorium, SFJAZZ Center, San Francisco
When the iconic Miles Davis again took American music into new directions with his groundbreaking album Bitches Brew, people took immediate notice of the jazz-rock fusion masterpiece. However, not all of Miles’ fans liked this pioneering blending of jazz with rock and African rhythms into a new, sometimes funky, concoction. I was one of the many who embraced the innovative sound of “Brew,” released in April 1970. In my own collection, Bitches Brew, A Tribute to Jack Jackson, On The Corner, and Miles’ other seminal jazz-fusion albums rest comfortably with his earlier classics, Birth of The Cool, Kind of Blue, and Sketches of Spain.
In the early ’80s, I saw Miles Davis at the old Circle Star Theater, a real theater in the round with a revolving stage, located in San Carlos. Mr. Davis had recently emerged from a self-imposed hiatus with renewed energy and a new album to promote, The Man with the Horn. Not entirely sure of what to expect, I thought of the upcoming show as my Catch A Living Legend While He’s Still Breathing tour. But Miles absolutely rocked the Circle Star. The day’s music was visionary and exciting. When Mr. Davis walked to the edge of the stage and held his trumpet in triumph, we all knew he was refreshed and back at full strength. Miles went on to enjoy another rich and productive phase in his long career.
It’s now 2014, and we are waiting for the Miles Electric Band to take the stage. Led by Miles’ nephew, drummer Vincent Wilburn, Jr., this talented group of all-stars includes members who played with Mr. Davis during his unprecedented 1960s-’80s period of music creativity. Tonight, I looked forward to hearing the Miles Electric Band with that same sense of ’80s excitement.
A gracious Randall Kline, founder and artistic director of SFJAZZ, introduced the group members individually as they came on stage. The evening started off with an overhead slide show of Miles in photos with some of the then younger musicians, including John Beasley, Darryl ‘The Munch” Jones, Robert Irving III, and Mino Cinelu. The tastefully done slide series also featured the celebrated trumpeter’s voice commentary on his philosophy and approach to music. Jeremy Ellis, who has worked with The Roots band, provided vocal percussion on his beat box for the opening Miles montage. The presentation ended with a photo of Miles, and the single word: “Chief.”
The Miles Electric Band show was an extraordinary swirl of world music, polyrhythms, rock and funk. MEB powered up with their opener, “Jack Johnson,” and did not let up until “Jean Pierre,” their encore. The band brought their own unique stamp to Miles’ music, starting off with Trinidad-born trumpeter Etienne Charles, who held the Chief’s trumpet position with a quiet poise. Miles liked to play in the upper register and Mr. Charles handled it well, while bringing his own style. Antoine Roney made timely contributions on alto saxophone to round out the band’s brass section. At times, the pulsating music was atmospheric, and then it was potent funk. Other times, it was both. Propelled by bold soulful rhythms, the Miles Electric Band’s new interpretations of Miles Davis jazz-rock classics had an otherworldly quality.
Guitarist Blackbyrd McKnight got a serious solo workout early in the set following a long introduction by the conga player. His muscular playing was stellar throughout the evening. Besides playing with Miles, funk master bassist Darryl Jones’ credits include gigs with Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, and Sting.
Seasoned percussionist Munyungo Jackson left his conga rig and took center stage to join the other percussionists, Calcutta-born Debashish Chaudhuri and Abbos Kosimov. While sitting on a cajon (a six-sided, box-shaped Brazilian instrument), Mr. Jackson started tapping out an engaging beat with the other percussionists, and their rhythmic interchange was marvelous to hear. Abbos Kosimov, from Uzbekistan, was keeping the slowly intertwining beat while gracefully balancing and then tossing his doyra (a medium-sized drum frame) with one hand. This soothing interplay among the three amazing percussionists–Munyungo , Debashish, and Abbos–was just mesmerizing.
After the show, Vince Wilburn, Jr., shared with me that “…these songs are our interpretations of the music…” Vince received a lot of comments from fans, who told him that the music was a “spiritual experience.” A friendly waitress thought she would never hear the songs live, and she thanked Vince and the band for bringing the great music forward. The Miles Electric Band’s fresh interpretations of Miles’ innovative funky jazz-rock classics provided an unforgettable musical experience for the SFJAZZ audience.
For more information about Miles Electric Band, go to www.milesdavis.com.
Personnel: Etienne Charles (trumpet), Antoine Roney (bass clarinet,tenor and soprano saxophone), John Beasley (keyboards), Blackbyrd McKnight (guitar ), Darryl Jones (bass), Vincent Wilburn, Jr.(drums), Debashish Chaudhuri (tabla), Abbos Kosimov (percussion), Munyungo Jackson (percussion), Robert Irving III (keyboards), Jeremy Ellis (beat box), DJ Logic (turntables)
Set List: Jack Johnson |In A Silent Way| Nefertiti in 6/Spanish Key |Pharaoh’s Dance |Miles Runs the Voodoo Down|Sanctuary |Jean Pierre (Encore)