Dec 7, 2013

Joe Henderson: So Near So Far, Musings For Miles, with John Scofield

Believe it or not, the first Joe Henderson album I ever heard was this album, So Near, So Far, a tribute to Miles Davis.

The album was released in 1993 on the Verve label. In my opinion one of the best jazz albums of the 90's, and it works extremely well.

One thing about tribute albums, they can suffer from the copycat syndrome. Sometimes an artist is so faithful to the original, that you often times think: "Why didn't I just put the original on in the first place?"

Musings for Miles never plays like a mimic at all, it always feels like its own album. Yes, these are Davis compositions for the most part, but Joe doesn't play them like a carbon copy of the Davis studio versions.

 Joe has brought in underrated "is that possible" guitarist John Scofield for an unusual piano-less quartet that has Scofield nearly stealing the show.

Scofield has an unusual sound that really speaks to me, a guitar tone that's blue/green tinted, yet has a rock edge to it. He uses a lot of chorus and flanger type effects, combined with his own natural vibrato that give off that blue green sound I call it, really hard to define. Bill Frisell has this type of sound too to some degree.

Henderson also stays away from the Davis songbook "ringers" here, meaning he has chosen material I don't recall seeing covered too many other places, even 23 years later!

Two tracks from Seven Steps to Heaven "Joshua" and "So Near So Far", two tracks from Someday my Prince Will Come, "Teo" and "Pfrancing", and the rarely covered, compared to "So What" anyway, "Flamenco Sketches" from Kind of Blue.

Also a few tracks from the second great quintet era, "Side Car" and "Circle" offer some unique sounds and actually sound the most like originals to me.

You really will have a hard time finding fault anywhere with this album. Joe is stellar, Sco is killer, Dave Holland is solid on Bass, and Billy Hart on drums is as good as it gets.

Hard to believe it has been 20 years since So Near So Far was released, I think it deserves classic status. It's one of those perfect modern jazz albums.

A fantastic listen.

Image credit:
So Near, So Far (Musings For Miles)
Courtesy of

Dec 6, 2013

The Late Bob Belden's Miles From India: A Fitting Tribute to Miles Davis

The late saxophonist arranger Bob Belden really out did himself on this release from 2008 Miles From India. He assembled many former Miles Davis side men for a reworking of many of the Davis classic compositions.

 Drawing on both the Classic modal era and the electric era, but totally reworking them with an East Indian motif. Sitar and tabla, and even some vocals in the authentic Indian tradition highlight the album.

The music is an absolute marvel, it could have been a disaster, it so perfectly melds Jazz with Indian influences.

Many of the tunes are very unpredictable, Using only a rough sketch from the original composition, a bass line or melody for instance. One thing I really got a kick out of was Trumpeter Wallace Roney playing some very unpredictable solos, many times a solo that would be better suited for a classic Kind of Blue tune is used on one of the electric period numbers.

 They cleverly meld the two styles together through out the album, This happens on "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down" it is almost as if the solo for "So What" is being used on "Voodoo".

 The colors throughout this album never cease to amaze me, the Indian Influences are never Gaudy, or clash with the music. It's as if Belden created a work along the lines of Gil Evans' reworking of Gershwin's Porgy & Bess. In that, these are well known and well loved compositions, Belden has created a new music worthy of its own accolades separate from the originals.

This may end up being one of those works that gets more respect as time goes by, certainly
this is Belden's own producing masterpiece.

The musicians on Miles From India seem to be in lock step with some sort of special Karma that doesn't happen all that often, and seems increasingly rare in the 21st Century.

Miles From India is more like India Plays Miles, Not necessarily Miles playing India, and that is the key for me.

 Belden Brings in "So What", "All blues" and "Blue in Green" from Kind of Blue, adds the Indian flavoring to create some of the most original sounding music I have heard recently.

Also tunes From Bitches Brew and In a Silent Way get the treatment, One of the real stars for me is Guitarist The Late Pete Cosey who really stands out. Cosey Goes Bananas on "Great Expectation," why doesn't the late Cosey Get more respect"? This guy has been a killer player for 40 years, Check out Miles' Dark Magus or Agharta for proof.

 Also Saxophonist David Liebman, Guitarist Mike Stern Drop, and Chick Corea. Chick only appears on "So What" But delivers a very tasty Piano solo, Gary Bartz is also there to add plenty of authentic electric era Miles flavor.

I went out and purchased the 180 gram 3 LP box set as well. You will not believe how great the vinyl sounds. The colors just shimmer.

What a shame, Bob Belden Passed away May 20, 2015 at age 58.  Bob was a great arranger and instrumentalist, as well as one of the top jazz historians and a monumental champion of the Miles Davis electric period. Bob was a four time Grammy Winner.

This is one that will be tough to stomach. I always enjoyed reading any of his liner notes, and all of his Davis tribute projects managed to add something to the Davis lexicon, and did not take anything away from it.

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