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Jeff Simon: They call it 'The lost Miles Davis record'

Jeff Simon

It's the biggest jazz record news since, at long last, we were able to hear Thelonious Monk's Carnegie Hall Quartet with John Coltrane. In this case, it's  a "lost record" by Miles Davis that will appear on Rhino on Sept. 6.

It's from 1985, after the period where Miles disappeared down a rabbit hole and spent his life holed up in his apartment with his drugs and resentments leavened by the visitations of friends like drummer Al Foster.

The record is called "Rubberband" and it dates from when Miles finally left Columbia and climbed aboard Warner Bros., where he expected the California hit train to be.

The one thing even Miles' most heedless worshippers have been hardest hit to deny was laid out by Miles himself when Quincy Troupe co-authored with him "Miles: The Autobiography" (thereby increasingly resulting in controversy that maintains Miles had been "Trouped" far too often when the truth was called for in the book).

Miles admits flat out in the book that much of his late-60's and early-70's electric music was the result of the influence of his young drummer Tony Williams and of envy for his own longtime pianist and acolyte Herbie Hancock (who gallingly went electric and became a headline act for whom Miles was expected to open). He wasn't content with the aristocratic reputation that came with being one of the greatest jazz artists who ever lived. Nor, it seems, was he always happy to be thought of as the husband of Cicely Tyson. He wanted the dangerous street clout of being married to roughneck singer Betty Davis.

The immense irony of Miles' search for popularity in his first few years of electric music is that his searches for "new directions" resulted in the most formally daring music of his entire life, under the delusion that it's where the road would always lead to the popularity of that magnificent first "fusion."

By the time he left Columbia for Warners' hit factory, he knew better. He was, at first, going to be able to produce a highly seasoned kind of funk and R&B that struck street attitudes in place of the very real musical rebellion of his younger self.

That's where the music of what we know so far of "Rubberband" is. Miles' trumpet is all too often a mere flavor in a watery soup of Warner sounds-by-the-Pacific. You don't have to wonder why Tommy LiPuma declined to release "Rubberband" after first listen. It's at best interesting music, but no more than that. We have an EP of it from April so far -- five tunes of which the worst, by far, is the one with the most layers under singer Ledisi. (An operating principle of current American recorded musical commerce: When in doubt layer on some more stuff.)

It isn't hard to understand Miles' nephew Vince Wilburn (who played with him at the end of his life) and his children pushing for the release of "Rubberband." At the least it's very real Miles Davis "product." It wasn't hard either to understand their enthusiasm for Don Cheadle's film "Miles Ahead."

What they want is a commercial "gangster" triumph for Miles The Ultimate Street Leader -- the new incarnation of the most protean and justifiable master of the jazz world of the '60's. For more than 10 years, his music was ground zero and he knew it. The attitude that came with such knowledge was formidable, but it was still a ways away from Miles' need to be absorbed into the rock explosion of the time.

The irony of his first fusions with electronics and then rock is that, in all innocence, it was leading him to the purity and radicalism that was every bit as extreme as jazz's avant garde at the time.

By the time he got to "Tutu" on Warner Bros., it was a long way from "Bitches Brew" and "Agharta." He's playing with musical flavors on what we know of "Rubberband." They're tasty when they sound like Burundian drums, but are pure, uncut ick when they turn to steel drums.

If I were Miles Davis' nephew -- or one of his kids -- I'd probably want the product of Miles' work released finally, too, over the initial front office rejection of it in the '80's. But the quest for a Miles street triumph as impressive as his artistic one is quixotic and, however interesting, always doomed I think.

. . .

The Miles Davis who will always matter to music -- rather than American empowerment -- can be heard on the music adapted by solo pianist Denny Zeitlin in his terrific live piano concert called "Remembering Miles" (Sunnyside).

Zeitlin has been one of jazz's great living jazz pianists since Miles was in his greatest and most significant '60's period. This is a solo concert from 2016 in Oakland playing repertoire identified with Miles throughout his career, from "The Theme," "Stablemates," "Dear Old Stockholm" to Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time." He loves Miles' bebop, modalism and pop inspirations equally it seems.

When Zeitlin first hit in the '60's, he was the formidably linear pianist who seemed to spring up from post-Bill Evans piano the way Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett and Michel Petrucciani soon would. Here is terrific 21st century piano playing still by Zeitlin.

Bill Evans' "Smile with Your Heart: The Best of Bill Evans on Resonance" collects the label's previously unreleased wonderments under Zev Feldman's miraculous direction. Sadly missing is a sample of the feature that is among the most impressive things about Resonance's discoveries -- the full wonderful liner notes. What is sometimes called "late Bill Evans" is sometimes distinguishable the way "late Coltrane" distinguishes the extremist music at the end of his life. It's often as blithely dismissed as "late Miles" and "late Coltrane," but in a different way. "Late Bill Evans" is considered coarse and lacking in reflective poetry. I've always doubted and outright dismissed that assessment. To me, "late Bill Evans" burns from a man whose health is going to end his life early and he knows it.

There are no dates or personnel included on the record, which is unfortunate. It's fine "late Bill Evans" nevertheless taken from the four different collections on Resonance.

"The Best Wes Montgomery on Resonance" does the same collecting job to anthologize the best from the six hitherto unreleased sets of Montgomery music so far. This was Wes when he was an Indianapolis giant on the rise. It is that Montgomery -- barn burner and not easy listening anodyne -- that is, thank heaven, memorialized on Resonance and can never be featured enough.

The most formidable "Out of the Past" recording, by far, of previously unheard jazz music is the extraordinary "Getz at the Gate: The Stan Getz Quartet Live at the Village Gate, Nov. 26, 1961" (Verve).

Getz, like Miles Davis, had a spectacular ear for young jazz talent as well as for contemporaries. This music was recorded right after what is arguably Getz's greatest masterpiece, "Focus," where he improvised over string compositions by Eddie Sauter. With his classic record with Chick Corea "Captain Marvel" still to come, Getz's quartet for this Village Gate gig was tremendous. It featured pianist Steve Kuhn and drummer Roy Haynes. It would have featured bassist Scott LeFaro, too, if LeFaro hadn't died that year in a car accident. His replacement John Neves is no LeFaro, but he does no harm either.

The interplay of steaming Getz, brilliantly inventive Kuhn (who, at 23, was starting out) and fiery Haynes is fierce, as delicious as such interplay got in 1961. Kuhn's block chord solos are fascinating and Getz's traditional insistence on being the "stomping tenor man" that people seldom credited beneath that lyrical tone are both supported by Haynes' ferocious crackle. Haynes is still a marvel, even now, in his 90's.

What Bob Blumenthal says about this two-disc set in the notes is inarguable it seems to me:

"A band this strong should have enjoyed a long successful life. Yet by year's end it had disbanded and Getz had begun a collaboration with guitarist Charlie Byrd that, in February 1962, yeielded the hit album 'Jazz Samba.' When Kuhn joined a reorganized Getz quartet later on that year, the saxophonist's fan base was more interested in 'Desafinado' and 'One Note Samba' than the music heard here."

Which makes the record that much more precious.

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