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Everything’s Great in Guelph — Unless You Ask Sainkho Namtchylak

Joe Locke

One of the great gifts that New York music lovers cherish each year is the gala Wall to Wall marathon that takes place at Symphony Space, the Upper West Side bastion of innovative programming. A free event that has been going strong since 1978, Wall to Wall focuses on presenting the music of a single artist for a span of 12 consecutive hours-noon until midnight-in the acoustically impeccable 800-seat theater. Past celebrants have included such iconic figures as Bach, Brahms and Beethoven from the classical world, Richard Rodgers, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and George and Ira Gershwin from the American songbook along with such cutting-edge visionaries as John Cage, Charles Ives and Kurt Weill. The only jazz artist previously feted was Duke Ellington, who received his Wall to Wall celebration in 1991. This year, Symphony Space co-founder and artistic director Isaiah Sheffer along with curator Bill Bragin chose Miles Davis as their Wall to Wall honoree. Few other figures in jazz history, with the exception of Ellington and Charles Mingus, have produced such a remarkably varied body of work as Davis. And for this 12-hour Miles marathon, the full scope of his chameleonic career-bebop, cool, modal, orchestral, fusion, funk, hip-hop-was well represented by a rotating cast of jazz all-stars.

The marathon (which did not follow a chronological progression but rather jumped around to different points in Miles’ lengthy career) started off in dynamic fashion with a 20-minute set from Bobby Previte’s 11-piece Voodoo Down Orchestra interpreting music from Miles’ volcanic landmark from 1969, Bitches Brew. The vibe was suitably dense and intense (an odd choice for so early in the day) as Previte drove the groove accompanied by two electric keyboards, two bassists, two percussionists, three horns and a lone guitarist, Pete McCann, reprising the John McLaughlin role. Featured soloists in Previte’s sprawling ensemble included trombonist Ray Anderson, acoustic bassist Peter Herbert and fiery fusion guitarist McCann. Wisely, Previte chose to avoid any comparisons to Miles himself by not having a trumpet in the band.

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