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Listening Post: Soundtrack to ‘Miles Ahead’ and a classic ‘Lost Session’ from Bill Evans

Soundtrack

“Miles Ahead,” with music by Miles Davis, Robert Glasper, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Taylor Eigsti (Columbia Legacy).

Make no mistake. There is a great deal of magnificent playing by Miles Davis on this record but it is absolutely not to be thought of as a Miles Davis record. It is keepsake of the music in Don Cheadle’s long-awaited film (which is scheduled to open in Buffalo on April 22). But when a disc cuts off “Solea” after five minutes and “Seven Steps to Heaven” after three and a half, you’re dealing with the traditional fragments heard in movie soundtracks –sonic daubings that color the drama onscreen but are denied the chance to flourish in a life of their own. It needs to be said that in the Columbia Legacy catalog there are any number of one- and two-disc introductions to the music of Davis which are vastly better than this at encapsulating the art of the most important American jazz musician of the 1950s through the ‘70s (and a leader among the handful of the greatest). The new contributions by Eigsti and Glasper aren’t enough to make up for all the truncated Miles (on “Nefertiti” and others too. “So What” and “Frelon Brun” are among the rarities untouched.) Whatever Davis might have said about the film, it’s inconceivable that he would have been happy with the edited, shortened and excerpted versions of his classics. Two and a half stars.

– Jeff Simon

Jazz

Bill Evans, “Some Other Time: The Lost Session From the Black Forest” (Resonance, two discs).

The wonderful discoveries regularly flowing from the Resonance Label have been the most exciting story in jazz for months. This incredible find was originally recorded for the great European label MPS (yes, in the Black Forest) in 1968 but never issued. The package here is as full and rich as it always is with Resonance. These are preiously unheard jazz double sets by great masters for the hopeless love of them. While this disc reveals smudges and imperfections in Evans’ playing, they’re part of the enormous excitement of hearing Evans in this period taking the kind of chances that became a phosphorescent burn in his final years. There’s a lot of recorded music by Evans with bassist Eddie Gomez but on very little of it is Gomez is as great (and as well-recorded) as he is here. It was Gomez who got Jack DeJohnette to be Evans’ drummer during this period. (DeJohnette was very visible among musicians, even at the time. “He’s not shy” deadpans Gomez now.) What drummer Paul Motian created when he was with Evans was an entirely new kind of free jazz drummer. DeJohnette says now in an interview in the disc notes that “there was a lot of freedom Bill’s way of playing expected of the drummer and the bassist to make it sound different every time. Because when Bill played his arrangements, he played them almost the same every time. So Eddie and I make permutations around the arrangements to keep them fresh.” Nevertheless, says DeJohnette, what’s here are a lot of new tunes this trio had never played before. And “the (stronger) different kind of touch” heard from Evans on some of it is, according to DeJohnette, Bill Evans trying to “make friends” with an extraordinary but completely unfamiliar Steinway piano in the studio. Terrific in every way. Four stars.

- Jeff Simon

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