It’s one thing to make a Miles Davis tribute album; lots of good musicians have done this. It’s quite another to pay homage to Miles by exploring his most mysterious, impenetrable period — the classic fusion era of the early 70s — and create entirely new compositions inspired by this period.
Jason Miles has successfully done this…twice, now. While such a concept has been attempted before — the Wadada Leo Smith/Henry Kaiser venture Yo Miles! comes most immediately to mind — the award-winning producer, keyboardist, arranger and composer Miles approaches this task not by aping his old friend whose first name matches Jason’s last one, but bottling his aura and pouring it out on contemporary grooves. 2005’s start-studded Miles to Miles: In the Spirit of Miles Davis was just that.
Similarly, that’s why Kind Of New (out now by Whaling City Sound Records) is more than just a play on words with Davis’ best known masterwork; it, too, is fundamentally different from the Yo Miles! records in that it doesn’t strive to “go retro” in the sonic sense. At the same time, New is positioned much closer to those Bitches Brew and A Tribute To Jack Johnson opuses than Miles to Miles and that is due in large part to adding a key partner for this project: Canadian-born trumpet player Ingrid Jensen. Berklee product Jensen has made her mark since the 90s primarily as a post-bop trumpet and flugelhorn specialist but before all that she was jamming to Bitches Brew. The Kind Of New provided her an opportunity to go all in returning to one of her earliest influences.
So yes, Jensen plays the crucial “Miles Davis” role in this endeavor, but that doesn’t mean she plays her trumpet just like Davis. Adopting the Prince of Darkness’ moody sense of melodicism, she plays mostly contemplative, which makes the occasional outburst of notes more impactful. On “The Faction of Cool,” she responds to the cool, easy strut but allowing the melody come to her and maneuvers pretty easily around a rhythm section constructed by Amanda Ruzza’s fat bass line and a crisp snare stroll by Jensen’s husband Jon Wikan.
Nearly every song in this collection, in fact, has some variation of a cocky strut to it and a woodwind foil (usually provided by Jay Rodriguez), but beyond these strong Davis signifiers, Jason Miles and Ingrid Jensen rely on their own instincts. Thus, if they wanted a baritone sax to counter Jensen’s lines as they did in the chugging, uptempo funk of “Super City,” what does it matter that Davis preferred tenor and soprano sax foils? It works, and works great.
“Shirley,” named after favored Davis vocalist Shirley Horn, slows down the groove for a moment for this fetching ballad that actually would have been a nice fit inside of Tutu or Amandla, two Davis albums Jason Miles was involved with. Each of Jensen’s notes seem to hover a bit before dissolving, phrasing herself like a veteran singing. “Seeing Through The Rain” is another strain rendered delicately by Miles’ flowing electric piano with a soprano sax counterpart this time, from Jeff Coffin, and a mildly African vibe.
“Close To The Action” is a harder, jungle groove that finds Jensen conversing with tenor sax, soprano sax and bass clarinet all coming from Jay Rodriguez. “Kats Eye” is a Sly and Robbie type Afro-Caribbean groove that features Jensen’s sensitive muted trumpet skills.
Three live tracks were sprinkled throughout this mostly studio creation, which didn’t disturb the vibe of the album at all, revealing that the years Miles and Jensen spent trying out material on the bandstand before committing them to tape paid off with crisp, consistent performances no matter the setting. “Ferrari,” a tune Miles co-wrote with Michael Brecker, actually leads off the Miles to Miles album but this rendition is rawer (in a good way) as Miles’ dirty Rhodes conjures up Jarrett’s boss Cellar Door Sessions performances from 1970. “Street Vibe” is tough, rubbery bass-driven funk fueled by a James Brown break beat. And then there’s (officially) the one Miles Davis cover: a sublime reading of “Sanctuary,” that captures the free spirit of the original Bitches Brew track perfectly, especially the splotches of color Miles adds with his electric piano. Following that after some silence is an Easter egg, a concert performance of “Jean-Pierre.”
With fusion jazz having strayed so far from the roots laid down by Miles Davis, a record like Kind of New is a refreshing reconnect with the innovations he introduced some forty-five years ago. Jason Miles and Ingrid Jensen show us the genius of Davis with pointed musicianship but also didn’t leave out Davis’ most critical ingredient: his attitude.
Jason Miles: keyboards
Ingrid Jensen: trumpet
Jay Rodriguez: tenor, baritone, soprano sax, bass clarinet (2, 5, 7, 8, 11, 12)
Jeff Coffin: tenor, baritone, soprano sax (7)
James Genus: bass (7)
Jerry Brooks: bass (5, 11,12)
Amanda Ruzza: bass (2, 3, 8)
Adam Dorn: bass (7)
Nir Felder: guitar (9)
Gene Lake: drums (4, 7)
Brian Dunne: drums (3, 7)
Mike Clark: drums (5, 11, 12)
Jim Wilson: drums (2), percussion (1, 5, 6, 8, 11, 12)
Steven Wilson: drum programming (9)
Cyro Baptista: percussion (7)
The Faction of Cool
Film Noir Interlude
Seeing Through the Rain
Close to the Action