Miles in the House
Well alright, Miles wasn’t really at The Regattabar Jazz Club this weekend, but close enough! What was there was four individuals that have worked alongside Miles at various points throughout his amazing and drastically changing career – be it all the way to the landmark album Kind of Blue that Jimmy Cobb was on all the way through the nearly last segment of Miles’ music with Mike Stern playing fusion. Along with two more greats – Sonny Fortune and Buster Williams, these four occasionally get together, and after channeling Miles, they present one heck of a jam.
This was the first time I had ever seen any of these guys in person. Not only that, I wasn’t even familiar with Williams’ or Fortune’s work! I basically had no idea what to expect other than that four legends were about to make music together. I was a little worried initially because as the show was about to begin and the band was making their way to the stage, they seemed extremely tired, worn out, and just not energetic. This is understandable since Cobb is 85, Williams, 71, and Fortune, 74. (Stern is just a young 61!) I knew it would be good anyway, so I was ready to see what would go down. What happened was them proving to the audience that music does in fact keep one young. I would have to say that Fortune pretty much stole the show for most of the night. All of his solos were completely perfect! There was a nice beginning, warming up for some great climactic action around the middle in which he just totally let loose on the sax, and then there was a winding down of sorts signaling it was someone else’s turn to shine. Collectively though, the band impressed us all with their amazing listening and reactive abilities. There were very few cues on stage, yet as soon as there was a new dynamic or new mood in the music, the band instantly adapted to what one person was establishing. A skill that comes with being the best and working in music for all of your life, this is something I’ve not seen many bands handle so stunningly.
The second set attendees were treated to “If I Were A Bell,” “Stella by Starlight,” “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” a spontaneous funk jam, and one of the greatest versions of “Straight, No Chaser” the public will ever witness for a long time. The last piece was the only one that Cobb soloed on, resulting in a huge appreciating response from the audience and hundreds of praises on the way out the door. For my guest and I, we were treated to an amazing concert of people essentially new to us. Whether this was your first or twentieth time seeing Four Generations of Miles, it was immensely enjoyable for all!
Oh, and don’t miss one of their former band mates, Ron Carter, next week at his Regattabar show with Donald Harrison and Billy Cobham!
~Matt Scutchfield (contemporary composer and instrumentalist at Berklee College of Music)
I must admit, I was looking forward to this one for a while. Bill Evans is one of the acts that you simply have to see if you get the opportunity. Bill Evans’ Soulgrass is a fusion group, primarily mixing jazz, bluegrass, and funk. The band played a double show at The Regattabar Jazz Club on February 22nd, giving the Boston area the opportunity to enjoy a group that has very few peers.
If you’re looking for a quick analogy to get a sense of the band, I might call Soulgrass a more accessible, more aggressive sounding group in the tradition of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones. The group is primarily focused on Evans’ direction, and Evans’ playing (saxophone, keys, and vocals) is exactly what you expect from a master of the instrument. He flies through seemingly impossible passages with ease, expresses real depth of feeling, and makes you lose track of everything going on around you that isn’t music. What’s truly special about this type of performance is that there is somehow something more to the music.
It’s hard to put words to his sound, but he gives you plenty to work with. Listening to one of his solos is much like watching a quickly changing landscape through the windows of a train. One moment, you’re experiencing jazz, the next, bluegrass. Then, blues. Then, rock. Then, funk. Then hip-hop, just for good measure. The amazing thing about it is that Evans’ sound never sounds unreachably avant-garde, nor does it sound contrived in is exploration. Instead, the fusion of genres makes you feel that you’re listening to something firmly grounded in the old traditions, while still being its own entity. Though most of the songs on the band’s new album Dragonfly exemplify this, “Kings and Queens” is an excellent way to get a feel for the style.
The rest of Soulgrass was exceptional as well. Andy Hess (bass) and Mitch Stein (guitar) are absolute monsters on their instruments. Taking complimentary roles for a large portion of the performance, they both were capable of taking the show on themselves when called on. Ryan Cavanaugh was nothing short of prodigious on banjo (even stealing the show a few times with simply out-of-this-world solos). Finally, Josh Dion is one of the few drummers who takes on vocals as soulfully as any lead singer. His rendition of “Them Changes” (an old Buddy Miles tune) was one in a series of high points from my perspective. Overall, the band offered an experience unlike any other, and left me wanting to hear more of their work.
~ Bobby Ortega (blues guitarist, graduate student at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology)