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Portland Jazz Festival: A Celebration of ECM

Bob Belden

The business of paying tribute to this or that classic jazz album/artist/label/floor wax/dessert topping continues unabated, signifying who knows what (my surmise: endemic sentimentality and/or a lack of artistic vision, combined with an understandable desire on the part of musicians to play music that has a proven, built-in audience). On its face, Bob Belden’s homage to Miles Davis’ germinal 1969 recording Bitches Brew promised to be more successful than most such projects, if only because electric Miles has more contemporary relevance than the usual, more geriatric objects of ancestor worship. In any case, Belden aimed for a retrofit, retaining elements that identify the album, while embracing certain contemporary techniques and technology.

Belden convened a formidable sextet for this live realization. Some of the sidemen adhered more closely to the original concept than others. Trumpeter Tim Hagans, for example, was Miles-ian from head to tone. His vibrato-less open-horn sound-saturated with delay and reverb-was a dead ringer for Bitches-era Miles. His phrasing was a bit more foursquare than Davis’, but in terms of inflection and overall melodic concept, he channeled the master. Keyboardist Scott Kinsey’s contribution was a slight elaboration on the source. His main axe was a Nord Electro, a virtual electromechanical instrument designed to recreate certain vintage keyboard sounds-among them the Fender Rhodes used on Bitches Brew. by Larry Young, Joe Zawinul and Chick Corea. Kinsey’s work captured the essence of the original, right down to the occasionally overdriven amp. His use of effects differed somewhat, owing to the use of technology that didn’t exist in 1969 (specifically, digital signal processing and sampling). On soprano sax, Belden played an important, if complementary role, much as Wayne Shorter did on the original sides. Belden’s concept was Shorter-ly, without a doubt. Like Wayne, Belden was aggressively reticent. His technique was impressive, his restraint perhaps more so.

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