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Mark Isham: Miles Remembered: The Silent Way Project

Given the number of Miles Davis tributes coming down the pike lately, you’d think this were his centennial and not Duke’s. Bill Laswell (Panthalassa, Columbia), Henry Kaiser (Yo Miles!, Shanachie) and the UMO Jazz Orchestra featuring Tim Hagans (Electrifying Miles, A Records) have already weighed in on electric Miles, and there are a few more on the way (Bobby Previte’s on Depth Of Field, Dave Stryker’s on SteepleChase). Meanwhile, trumpeter Mark Isham has his way with his idol on Miles Remembered: The Silent Way Project, revisiting the music that first grabbed him in his formative years.

And he hits the mark in a few cases, notably on a revved-up, fairly faithful rendition of “Right Off,” the proto-punk fusion anthem from Jack Johnson, which is sparked by the suitably spikey guitar tandem of Steve Cardenas and Peter Maunu. Isham’s hyper-drive original “Internet” is seething with the kind of audacious blast furnace intensity that early ’70s Miles routinely summoned up in concert. A raw, over-the-top guitar solo by either Maunu or Cardenas is the icing on this electrified cake. The same subversive guitarist (Maunu?) unleashes some wicked wah-wah work on a ripping rendition of “Black Satin” (from On The Corner ). It is precisely this kind of sick abandon that once gave fusion a good name and is being revived here by Isham’s working quintet (a document of live performances at the Baked Potato in North Hollywood culled from recordings between January and October of 1996).

They turn in equally brash renditions of “It’s About That Time” (from In a Silent Way), the lengthy “Spanish Key” and “Great Expectations” (from Bitches Brew), respecting Miles’ music while interpreting it at the same time.

The title track, however, is another matter. Rather than playing that landmark Joe Zawinul composition as the ethereal rubato piece that graced the 1969 album of the same name, Isham filters it through a tamer, latter day Miles sensibility (i.e., “Time After Time”) so that its metronomic pulse ultimately has far more radioplay accessibility than the more mysterious original. Isham’s other original offering, a heartfelt, wah-wah laced ballad entitled “Azael,” is a lyrical high point of this otherwise incendiary tribute.

Originally Published