This is quite a tribute band. Mike Stern played guitar with Miles Davis in the 1980s, while the rest of the quartet-George Coleman, tenor sax; Ron Carter, bass; and Jimmy Cobb, drums-played with Davis’ combos in the ’60s. Eight of the nine tunes are from Davis’ 1950s repertoire and the other is the Davis-Carter modal blues “81” from 1965.
The set begins with an uptempo “There Is No Greater Love,” Coleman in a post-Parker style with a light sound and bright phrase relationships, Stern playing attractive bop with a distinctive sound much like an electric organ stop. As the set continues, Coleman becomes occupied with stylistic details-repeated grace notes, trills, alternate fingerings-so his playing becomes highly decorated. Much, maybe most, of his solos are in double time, which furthers the sense of a largely ornamental style, though in the two ballads he seems to try to structure in blocks. His longest solo is the extended theme and variations of “My Funny Valentine”; his other solos are just a few choruses long.
Stern is an eclectic, but his comparatively straightforward soloing makes a good contrast. He often plays strains in blues phrasing (hear how his funk contradicts the others in the ethereal “81”), there are other contrasts like one-note rides, passages voiced in octaves, passages of sequences that climb the scales a la George Freeman. Along with his interesting solo forms, the combination of his unusual sound and distant harmonies make for provocative accompaniments centered on color rather than chordal support. The combination of forceful bassist and less-aggressive drummer is another pleasure, with three brief bass solos and one chorus of solo drums.
Altogether the music is exploratory in the Miles Davis tradition, closing with a fast “Oleo” that is the best thing on the CD.