What with the Iranian cabbie banging South Indian bhangra on the way to the transformative music of the Miles Electric Band, crosspollination was in the air this Saturday night. Miles Electric Band focuses on entirely on interpreting the music of Davis’s electric period, when he released Bitches Brew, On the Corner and Jack Johnson. This however, ain't no tribute band. It does not faithfully replicate the songs; instead it holds to the spirit of the recordings, which was all about fusion and improvisations. The original recording sessions were convened with no music written down beyond basic song structures, the playing field that Davis required for what was to come. This is the jumping off point for the music of Miles Electric Band.
The lineup that filed quietly onstage before a buzzing audience was led by drummer/bandleader Vince Wilburn, Jr, followed by Davis alumnus Robert Irving 111 (keyboards), guitarist David Gilmore, Toronto tabla master Ravi Naimpally, bassist Dywane "MonoNeon" Thomas Jr , noted percussionist Munyungo Jackson, hip-hop turntablist DJ Logic, saxist Antoine Roney and fronting for Miles on trumpet, Etienne Charles.
Backdropped by a giant portrait of Davis with the words For The Chief, the show opened with a spoken word passage from Miles, with atmospherics from DJ Logic melding into a tabla break opener for "Jack Johnson," which takes it to counterpoint range where the drums rumble in and the guitar is scratching at the door with lead lines from trumpet and sax floating cloudlike above the funky doings, slickly supported by Irving on both acoustic and electronic keys. Charles' solo set the trumpet standard for the evening, a sweet intensity, a sense of wonder, a boldness in climbing every self-inflicted mountain. "In A Silent Way" was all reflective and atmospheric , Charles comfortable working in the higher register Davis favoured for the tune, written by Joe Zawinul , bolstered by intuitive guitar lines and Irving's nuanced work on the piano.
The next pair, "Nefertiti in 6" and "Spanish Key" shared similar bloodlines, with Arabesque influences checking in from guitar, drums, Logic's electronic flourishes and imaginative and rippling bass lines with Gilmore keeping the rock strong. A funkified and engaging "Pharaohs Dance" had the fans clapping along and dancing in their seats as the drums and percussion went all in and Gilmore unleashed a series of searing lead runs. "Miles Runs The Voodoo Down" was a percussion tour de force and another opportunity for audience interaction. Master percussionist Munyongo came out from his congas rig to join Naimpally for some brilliant percussive call and response playing that owed as much to South India as to the band's improvisational mandate. Working on a Cajon, a six side Brazilian box drum for some marvellous rhythmic interplay that brought a rousing applause from the audience. Jackson returned at a later point with an African axatse, a large gourd-shaped instrument draped in a net of beads outside and packed with the same inside and put on a clinic on the instrument's capabilities as he played it with hands and knees, throwing it up into the air and juggling it, all the time keeping the rhythms intact and in synch with what Naimpally and Wilburn were doing with their kits.
As with Davis' style change during his electric period, Charles' playing for most of the set was fast and aggressive, with lots of upper register work. His closing solo on'...Voodoo" brought all this together with a rugged confidence. Turning on the proverbial dime, the show closed with a beautiful and elegant take on the Wayne Shorter ballad, " Sanctuary." Beginning with Davis and keyboardist Irving improvising on the standard " I Fall in Love Too Easily " the melody is gradually evolved to where it's supposed to be before Davis plays the "Sanctuary" theme and Roney joins in, the brass repeating the melody over and over while the rhythm section increases the intensity as the keys explore their own relationship with the theme.
Crowd on their feet as Wilburn introduces the band, hooting and hollering and rattling their bling, ain't going home yet, you bet, stomping some and more hollering and Wilburn leads the crew back to encore with 'Jean Pierre' just as Miles had done for the majority of his shows in the Eighties. It builds from a simple melody alongside which the backline create a high steppin' funkified playing field for a soaring, impassioned solo in an unrepentantly rockist vein from Gilmore. The Chief sure knew how to leave them wanting more.
Last word goes to a not notably jazz fannish acquaintance encountered after the show. "Wow. That was f.....g exciting.
For more shows at Koerner Hall visit https://www.rcmusic.com/performance