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Jason Miles

What's Going On: Songs of Marvin Gaye

(Narada; US: 7 Feb 2006)

What I wouldn’t give to see Marvin Gaye climb back into our world from soul heaven so he could kick Jason Miles’s synth-programming ass.


Since that isn’t going to happen, you’re going to have to step in for him.  Seriously—do it for Marvin.  Do it on the basis of your love of What’s Going On and Let’s Get It On.  Do it because Tammi Terrell would want you to.  Do it because you heard it through the grapevine.  Do it because this album is a travesty cloaked in an abomination.  Just do it.


Punishment in the American legal system is justified by one or more of these rationale: retribution, prevention, and rehabilitation. All of them apply in the case of Jason Miles.


Retribution.  This album is painful to listen to.  As Jon Stewart said about the since-cancelled TV show Crossfire, Jason Miles is hurting America.  This stuff is like sugar on the teeth or cholesterol in the arteries—cheesy, sugary smoove “jazz” that will get inside your musical system and desperately clog up the works.  It leads to decay of the soul and deterioration of your sense of teast.  Take “Sexual Healing”, the gargantuan soul classic.  Here it is rendered simply in synth, drum programming and super-slick pentatonic guitar licks over a bogus reggae feel.  To what shall I compare this?  It is like a tiny replica of Michaelango’s David rendered in marshmallow and colored sugar: a tiny Easter “peep”.  Or how about  


Prevention.  Someone must make sure that Jason Miles does not do this again.  He is, in fact, a serial Smoove Jazz Tribute Maker.  Previous efforts have been dedicated to the music or memory of Ivan Lins, Miles Davis and Grover Washington, Jr.  This guy is, simply put, a career criminal.  The Ivan Lins tribute, perhaps, was not a felony as Mr. Miles does show a touch for bossa feel even here, turning “I Want You” into an chilly, delicate piece of music.  But these other tributes are either irrelevant (a smoove tribute to Grover, who essentially invented the genre?  Redundant!) or horrifying.  And, of course, if you can show some backbone by not buying this watered-down tribute disc, then maybe other smoove programmers and producers will put the brakes on The Boney James Tribute to Sly Stone or The Yellowjackets Take the Coltrane or Jeff Lorber’s Bob Dylan Project.  Please, folks, stop the madness.


Rehabilitation.  If you stop Mr. Miles from making any more mushy goop like his Herb Alpert feature on “Let’s Get It On”—music that could well replace Novocain in all future dental procedures, so bland it silly and vanilla this song about doing it has been rendered—then is it possible you could alter Mr. Miles’s musical soul?  It’s possible.  A synth programmer for Marcus Miller (who anonymously appears on two tracks here) on three late-career Miles Davis albums, Jason Miles must have some substance to him.  He’s worked on Michael Jackson and Luther Vandross albums, so… ?  Could he be, at least, be allowed to work on R&B albums as some sort of production assistant?


Maybe not.  Listen to his fluty version of “Mercy Mercy Me”.  All drum programming and cloud-floaty FX, it is arguably the opposite of the original plea for a cleaner Earth.  Mr. Miles’s version of the song is all Styrofoam McDonalds clamshells and oil-spill—an environmental disaster of manmade musical materials.  Nothing natural in earshot.  “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” is built (I am not making this up) around a synthesized cowbell groove.  In this case, kids: NO more cowbell, please.  The other vocal features (“Heavy Love Affair” for James “D Train” Williams, “Too Busy Thinkin’ About My Baby” for Guida de Palma, and “Distant Lover” for Bobby Caldwell) are the thinnest of soul gruel.


Please.  I’m begging you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury.  Put this one behind bars.  Make an example of Jason Miles.  Stop him before he kills again.

Rating:

Will Layman is a writer, teacher and musician living in the Washington, DC area. He is a contributor to National Public Radio and frequently appears as a guest on WNYC's "Soundcheck" as a jazz critic. He plays both funk and jazz in the bars and clubs in and near the nation's capital. His fiction and humor appear in print and online.


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