[JPL] Live Review: 4 Generations of Miles JazzTimes Magazine

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Fri Jan 23 07:53:51 EST 2009


4 Generations of Miles
New York, NY USA
December 28, 2008
Written By: 
Perry Tannenbaum 
Imagine Trane squaring off against John McLaughlin in a quartet setting, and
you can grasp the tension and excitement of this summit meeting. None of
these four Miles Davis alumni were ever classmates in the same Davis group,
but all are distinguished grads of that most prestigious small college in

The age span between drummer Jimmy Cobb and guitarist Mike Stern (pictured)
is 24 years, a little wider than the lapse between the year Cobb replaced
Philly Joe Jones (1958) and Stern joined Miles¹ comeback band (1981). In
between these unlikely collaborators, who participated in a ³4 Generations
of Miles² tribute further uptown at the Makor Club in May 2002, are bassist
extraordinaire Buster Williams, who matriculated with Miles in 1967, and
alto sax giant Sonny Fortune, Class of 1975. They¹ve replaced Ron Carter and
George Coleman, whose exploits at the Makor can still be scrutinized on a
Chesky CD. 

Of course, the alumni concept precludes a trumpet player. So two questions
loomed as we waited at the Iridium for Cobb to strike the downbeat. Can a
trumpet-less tribute to Davis really work? And where do four generations of
Miles sidemen meet musically?

Despite the personnel changes, the answers remained very much the same as
they were in 2002. There was no middle ground at the set we heard: All five
lines found their center of gravity in the era when Cobb reigned
unobtrusively behind his kit (Davis¹ early Columbia years) and before.
³Oleo,² ³There Is No Greater Love² and the ever-evolving ³My Funny
Valentine² became staples in Miles¹ songbook during the Prestige years of
1954-56. Cobb was the first to be entrusted with ³All Blues² and ³On Green
Dolphin Street.² 

All five tunes are represented on the Chesky disc. Allowing less freedom and
space for most of the tunes, the Chesky 4 had fewer glitches, and fewer
brilliancies, than the Iridium 4. In real time, there was also more suspense
as the Iridium set unfolded. Sonny soloed long, unaccompanied and outside
metronomic time before slowly easing into the first head, ³There Is No
Greater Love.² Stern followed with plenty of spirit, Metheny-like, still
sounding like a bopping work-in-progress. Cobb, Fortune and Stern traded
fours before the out chorus, another slight humbling for the guitarist.

Stern did far better in that out-of-time, unaccompanied frontier where
Fortune was so dazzling, meandering on the outskirts of rock and blues
before homing in on Miles¹ ³All Blues.² Fortune had no intention of being
scratched, let alone cut, by Stern¹s bravura, launching a fiery, wailing
diatribe. Undaunted, Stern came right back at the hypnotic line, digging
into the 3/4 feel with Cobb¹s prodding. Neither of these hard-driving solos
was an easy act to follow, but Williams flashed some surprising artillery,
sprinkling clusters of harmonics into his solo. Somewhat veiled during
Fortune¹s fusillades, Stern¹s comping aptitude emerged clearly behind
Buster, deliciously simpatico.

Fortune frowned briefly during the next couple of tunes. Apparently plagued
by a tickle in his throat as his ³Green Dolphin Street² solo lingered on the
runway, Fortune eventually attained a higher altitude than Stern, whose
flight plan included a detour through ³Surrey With the Fringe on Top.² Then
Sonny was obliged to play the bridge at the head of ³My Funny Valentine,²
which Cobb insisted on steering into a samba rhythm. Those were the only
moments, before and after the fine solos by Stern, Fortune and Williams,
where Miles might not have smiled at his tribute. Fortunately, a pair of
mighty Stern cadenzas framed the entire chart.

³Oleo² was the perfect choice for a closer, with Fortune in top form,
stating the line and launching the string of solos. Everybody took a turn,
Cobb making the most of his only rant. If you¹re scratching your head trying
to recall a Cobb solo on all those Columbia sides, be informed that the
revelation bore a touch of Max Roach: truly crowd-pleasing. Fortune and
Stern topped that explosion the only way they could, jamming together to
take it out. 

Yes, the sans-trumpet tribute did work. Happy birthday wishes to Cobb, who
celebrated his 80th on the day of President Obama¹s inauguration

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