Miles Davis and Robert Glasper – Everything’s Beautiful
(Columbia/Blue Note/Legacy 88875157812). CD Review by Peter Jones
With the help of Miles’s nephew and erstwhile drummer, Vince Wilburn Jr, Robert Glasper was given permission to raid the Columbia vaults for the original master tapes of Miles Davis’s recordings over many years. The idea was to use the material as a starting point for these 11 new tracks, each one inspired by Miles, and featuring different vocalists, from Laura Mvula to Stevie Wonder, in a mixture of spoken word, rap and song.
On the opening track, Talking Shit, it’s the Prince of Darkness himself who provides the spoken vocal – snippets from the sessions for Jack Johnson, In A Silent Wayand Nefertiti, combined with some looped Joe Zawinul piano from In A Silent Way. It could have been a dog’s breakfast, but it’s strangely lush and compelling. We move on to Ghetto Walkin’, a mellow, hip-hoppy tune taken from The Ghetto Walk, recorded for the In A Silent Way sessions, although not included on the original album. This track features the soulful vocal of Glasper’s old friend Bilal, segueing into They Can’t Hold Me Down with a rap from Illa J.
So far so pleasant, but it’s with Maiysha (So Long) that things really start to gel. This is a bossa nova version of a tune that appeared on the Miles compilation album Get Up With It in 1974. The original, a messy wah-wah organ and trumpet groove, has been cunningly augmented with lyrics and a vocal performance from Erykah Badu. The update improves on the original, whilst retaining Miles’s trumpet solo.
Violets started life as Bill Evans’s false start to Blue In Green, and Glasper has used it as a loop backing for the rapper Phonte, with a sweet vocal backing from 9th Wonder. The unearthly Little Church follows: it’s a track from Miles’s Live-Evil, re-imagined by futuristic Australian quartet Hiatus Kaiyote. The title of Mvula’s piece – Silence Is The Way – gives us a tiny clue about its origins, and with her meditative vocal harmony backing, it perfectly captures the minimalist darkness of the album which has inspired so much of the music on this new one.
The vocal group King (all female) were new to me, but with Song for Selim (from Live-Evil’s Selim) they have created a tune of dreamy beauty. Perhaps the weakest track is Milestones, featuring Georgia Anne Muldrow. Whereas the other musicians have been canny enough to choose relatively obscure tracks as their starting point, Muldrow went for something iconic, and her own version unfortunately suffers by comparison, losing the ferocious attack that made the original such a blast. I’m Leaving You is a straightahead funk groove featuring singer Ledisi that incorporates a chopped-up Lenny White drum pattern, and features none other than John Scofield scraping his pick along the guitar strings. The final track, Right On Brotha, contains a trumpet sample from Miles’s Right Off, with some classic harmonica wailing from Stevie Wonder.
It could have been a right old dog’s breakfast, as I mentioned earlier. Instead it’s a triumph of the modern psychedelic art, the entire collaborative project full of interesting musical ideas and drenched in swoony melody.