Chris Kelsey & What I Say: The Electric Miles Project

On The Electric Miles Project, saxophonist Chris Kelsey and his What I Say quintet approach Miles Davis’ fusion work in terms of layers. It’s an unusual tack, but given the methods of construction Davis used, a valid and probably long overdue one. The resultant album provides real insight into the fusion pioneer’s inventions-and the musicians’ thrill at taking them for a spin.

They dig deep into some of the strata: “Agharta Prelude” unearths, via Kelsey’s soprano, the tune’s main melodic motif (present on Davis’ Agharta but buried in its murky textures). In other places they add new content: On “Directions,” Joe Gallant replaces the short, passive bass riff Miles employed with the slippery, kinetic one he threaded through side two of On the Corner, and guitarists Rolf Sturm and Jack DeSalvo inject a buzzing maelstrom into the mix. Not incidentally, Sturm and DeSalvo are separated throughout the album into the left and right stereo channels, respectively, allowing them to function as separate layers as well.

As for the joy in the music, it’s tempting to credit that to drummer Dean Sharp and his thrashing style. (Kelsey’s liner notes compare him to Keith Moon; Lars Ulrich and Earl Hudson might also work.) But the ambient interlude “Mad Love Part 1” carries that same feeling, with Sharp barely present; he’s light color for the first third of “Ife,” and merely vamps through the rest. And despite the tune’s heavy foreboding, the players-the guitarists in particular-are clearly having the time of their lives. Credit for the success of The Electric Miles Project goes to inspired material and musicians who love both it and its inherent possibilities.