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CD Review: Miles From India

I placed the first disc of this album in my player with some trepidation wondering to myself if this indeed was the long awaited holy grail of Indo-American jazz fusion. Here two streams of musical tradition dear to me come together; namely Jazz and Indian classical. The album at hand is essentially a recreation of music by Miles Davis ranging from his 50’s quintet to the late 60’s and early 70’s fusion period with most emphasis on tracks from Kind of Blue and Bitches Brew sessions.  The project has been realized by pianist/arranger Louiz Banks from India and Bob Belden from America, known for his work on the Miles Davis boxed sets for Sony-Columbia.

To quote an interview* with Bob Belden, “Yusuf Gandhi, who heads Times Square Records, and I have had conversations about doing this for the past several years. Yusuf had the connection to India and an understanding of Indian classical music along with an appreciation for jazz and also fusion music. So we had some mutual interests there. At some point we were talking about potential projects and I was just in the process of doing the On The Corner boxed set. Of course, Miles incorporated tabla and sitar on those sessions from 1972, so I suggested revisiting Miles’ Indian influenced music using some of those guys from On The Corner along with some Indian classical musicians and calling it Miles…From India. Yusuf said, ‘Perfect,’ and that was it.”

“We used the internet a lot in dealing with file sharing sites. And I was also able to use skype to produce two sessions at the same time in different locations from my apartment. For ‘It’s About That Time’ I had Ndugu Chancler playing drums on the West Coast and Robert Irving in Chicago playing Hammond B-3 organ, and we were all connected in a video conference via skype. They were playing back their parts, suggesting stuff, conversing back and forth with me producing back in my New York apartment. In fact, you can make a whole record that way. You leave less carbon footprints that way.”

Like Belden stated in the above interview Miles had used electric bass and guitar before, but with On the Corner he had introduced tabla and sitar into the sound palate and that is the thread that is picked up by Miles From India. The line up on this record is nothing short of an east-west-all-star ensemble despite the fact that many of the tracks were layed down in separate sessions, on separate continents.

Some of the Indian musicians on these sessions like Louiz Banks for example have long been associated with jazz but many are mostly from the classical side, both Carnatic and Hindustani. Louiz (anyone know why the s has changed into z over the years?)  is acknowledged as India’s premier jazz pianist as well as a prolific composer of soundtracks for both stage and screen. As a positive surprise to me is the presence of my favorite Hindustani violinist Kala Ramnath on this album. And she never lets me down, this album being no exception. Her purely classical playing sits in perfectly in this eclectic jazz setting.

While the Indian musicians recorded their tracks in Mumbai and Chennai, the Miles alumni went about recording their respective parts in New York, after which everything was digitally pasted into a coherent whole. I guess technology does sometimes actually unite the world, as the cliché saying goes. If this album is what we can come up with, I raise no objections. The end result sounds surprisingly organic and natural, not “cut and paste” in any way as might be the case with such projects.

The album commences with the classic Spanish Key, following very much in the footsteps of the original departing mainly with Shankar Mahadevan’s vocals and Selva Ganesh’s khanjira (frame drum) bringing in a strong South-Indian flair. The track begins with a subdued duet between Roney and Banks which intensifies as Banks switches to Fender Rhodes (I think) and Roney whacks on the mute. As with the original we get treated to a near 20 minute trance-inducing acid trip across space and time.

All Blues (click here to listen) happily switches trumpet to sitar, starting with Ravi Chary’s brief sitar solo before giving way to Banks’ personal take at Bill Evans’ classic solo while a delightful alto sax duet by Rudresh Maranthappa and Gary Bartz awaits around the corner. The first version of Ife is taken at fast tempo with Kala Ramanath taking center stage with her violin fireworks. The track maintains momentum right trough and takes one back to the heyday of jazz fusion in the 70’s not least when Pete Cosey (Agartha & Pangea) rips at his electric guitar with no energy lost since back in the day.

It’s About That Time (click here to listen) is again a very funky track akin to the original yet given new wind by the driving violin of Kala Ramnath contrasted with Gary Bartz’s horn solos in an almost jugalbandi-like way. Just for this it is worth listening to the album. Next in line we have  the electric bass heavy Jean Pierre that has a grounding and solid feel to it, but nevertheless remains my least favorite track.

So what features Banks on Rhodes again and Chick Corea on piano. The 50’s material is given somewhat of an electro-Indian flavor and I find no misery in that, though I suspect someone might. Miles Runs the Voodoo Down is exactly the delightful chaos one would expect it to be and perhaps most true to the original among all the tracks. The track features a workhorse of a rhythm section including Michael Henderson, Lenny White and percussionists Sivamani and Vikku Vinayakram.

Blue in Green is a touchingly beautiful version with east and west mingling in an unheard of way; Shankar Mahadevan’s vocals, Ramnath’s violin and Roney’s trumpet create an ethereal soundscape over the rhythmic bedrock of Miles veterans Jimmy Cobb and Ron Carter. On Great Expectations Marcus Miller’s bass clarinet drives the tune, accented by Chary’s sitar and Wallace Roney’s trumpet. The slow version of  Ife witnesses saxophonists Dave Liebman and Gary Bartz and original tabla player Badal Roy in a On the Corner reunion that leaves none cold. The album ends with a nostalgic elegy specifically commissioned and written for this project by John McLaughlin.

In summary one can say that the “electric period” tracks are more faithful to the originals whereas the acoustic ones off Kind of Blue supply the most startling departures, but all in all this is a breathtaking collaborative effort and a very inspiring tribute to Miles’ music serving as a testament to his musical expansiveness and global influence. This is unpretentious and inspired jazz fusion and will certainly appeal to fans on Miles’ music and might even serve as an introduction for someone yet unacquainted.

Full track list is as follows:

Disc 1
1 Spanish Key 19:44
2 All Blues 9:21
3 Ife (Fast) 8:41
4 In a Silent Way 2:33
5 It’s About That Time 10:00
6 Jean Pierre 11:36

Disc 2
1  So What 8:09
2 Miles Runs the Voodoo Down 9:03
3 Blue in Green 13:07
4 Great Expectations 8:39
5 Ife (Slow) 14:11
6 Miles from India 6:53

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The personnel who appeared on original Miles recordings: saxophonists Dave Liebman (1972-74) and Gary Bartz (1970-71), guitarists Mike Stern (1981-84), Pete Cosey (1973-76) and John McLaughlin (1969-72), bassists Ron Carter (1963-69), Michael Henderson (1970-76), Marcus Miller (1981-1984), Benny Rietveld (1987-91), keyboardists Chick Corea (1968-72), Adam Holzman (1985-87) and Robert Irving III (1980-88), drummers Jimmy Cobb (1958-63), Leon ‘Ndugu’ Chancler (1971), Lenny White (1969) and Vince Wilburn (1981, 1984-1987) and tabla player Badal Roy (1972-3)

The Indian contingent is represented by keyboardist Louiz Banks, drummer Gino Banks, alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, sitarist Ravi Chari, Vikku Vinayakram (a charter member of Shakti) on ghatam, V. Selvaganesh (a member of Shakti and Remember Shakti) on khanjira, U. Shrinivas (from Remember Shakti) on electric mandolin, Brij Narain on sarod, Dilshad Khan on sarangi, Sridhar Parthasarathy on mridangam, Taufiq Qureshi and A. Sivamani on percussion, Kala Ramnath on Carnatic violin, Rakesh Chaurasia on flute and Shankar Mahadevan & Sikkil Gurucharan on Indian classical vocals.

*This interview has appeared elsewhere before

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2 Responses to “CD Review: Miles From India”

  1. Bhavana says:

    Love this blogpost. So informative. Thank you.

  2. Aleksi Lausti says:

    Glad you liked it Bhavana. More to come.

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