Music

Herbie Hancock, Michael Brecker, Roy Hargrove: Directions in Music: Celebrating Miles Davis & John

Kael Moffat

Roy Hargrove

Directions in Music: Celebrating Miles Davis & John Coltrane

Display Artist: Herbie Hancock, Michael Brecker, Roy Hargrove
Label: Verve
US Release Date: 2002-06-11
UK Release Date: 2002-06-17
Amazon
iTunes

By nature, I tend to be leery of all-star bands, or should I say recordings of all-star bands, especially when they exist primarily to pay tribute to other notable musicians. The bands are always short-lived and tend to sound amazingly competent, especially on recordings. Thus, I must confess I was a bit skeptical in approaching this disc. Each of the three headliners has taken rather disparate paths during their careers. Hancock, a Miles Davis Quintet alum on the piano, has made his mark as an innovator, bringing elements of hard dark funk, minimalism, and street-beat into his compositions; Brecker, on tenor sax, has been a force in the funk/groove jazz scene, along side his brother; and Hargrove has been identified with the vanguard of young neoclassical jazz musicians with his cookin' hard bop/straight ahead chops. Even the two "sidemen" of the group, John Patitucci and Brian Blade, bass and drums respectively, have made such strong names for themselves that it almost seems unfair that they were not given top-billing spots as well. With all of this in mind, no wonder my all-star-band-suspicion trigger was on alert. Luckily, though, I didn't have to pull it.

This ensemble toured to celebrate the music of Davis and Coltrane, and the disc is taken from their show at Massey Hall in Toronto, featured on CBC Radio's Jazz Beat. The set is comprised of tunes written by or associated with the two legends, as well as new compositions in their memory. Evidently, as the group rehearsed for their tour, they seemed to have had similar concerns to mine. According to Hancock's liner notes, they understood very well that if they had "just [taken] the arrangements [Davis and 'Trane] were famous for and improvised on them, the audience might [have been] happy . . . because they'd be hearing what was familiar to them. But if Miles Davis and John Coltrane were here, they would not be very happy with this safe kind of approach." The group decided that since the two masters they wished to honor were innovators and thrived on taking risks, they would "create [their] own new way of looking at the compositions, to allow new freedoms within the structures in order to stimulate and provoke spontaneity."

The result of this approach is a refreshing tribute, not only to Davis and Coltrane themselves, but also to their notable ensembles, the Miles Davis Quintet and John Coltrane's magnificent quartet. The disc's first four tracks tend to sound more Davis-esque, with the first track being a Hancock composition entitled "The Sorcerer" and the second track, "The Poet", being a tribute written by Hargrove, who plays fluegelhorn on it. "Miles Davis to me," writes Hargrove in his liner notes, "is like a great poet. He was a master of using space and just playing all the right notes in the right places." The third track, "So What/Impressions," is a small medley of a Davis tune and a Coltrane tune back to back, while the fourth track, "Misstery," was co-written by Hancock, Brecker, and Hargrove. What makes these four tracks intriguing is how they reflect different periods in the arc of Davis' growth as a composer and bandleader. The first two sound like tunes that could have come off his Cookin' or Relaxin', while "So What" is a tune that Davis played with Coltrane, and "Misstery" sounds like something Miles would have recorded during his modal phase.

The final four tracks nod to Coltrane. In fact, Brecker plays a beautiful interpretation of the quintessential Coltrane composition, "Naima." He does a tremendous job of invoking Coltrane's sound and emulating his style, without trying to reproduce him. The sixth track, "Transition", is another Coltrane composition. Interestingly enough, Hargrove takes the first solo on this song and manages to achieve a very Coltrane-esque sense of phrasing on the trumpet. For the next track, the group goes back to a tune associated with Davis, "My Ship", a track from Miles Ahead. Again, Hargrove plays this track on a fluegelhorn; intriguingly, though, Brecker's solos on this track sound very much like Coltrane's more introspective and bluesy solos (think "Alabama", or "Summertime"). The disc winds up with Brecker's tribute to Coltrane, entitled "D Trane".

Throughout the disc, of course, Hancock shows a remarkable stylistic range, without mechanically aping McCoy Tyner, Bill Evans, Winton Kelly, or any of the other pianists that played with Davis and Coltrane. Like Davis, Hancock has achieved a real statesman-like presence and his leadership on this project pervades, but does not dominate each track. Patitucci turns a beautiful performance on the bass, throwing in a real swinging solo at the beginning of "D Trane". One of the most pleasant gems on this recording, though, is Brian Blade. His stickwork is always appropriate, and thoroughly his own, though he does pay homage to some of the great drummers of the era like Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, and Philly Joe Jones. What sets this disc apart from other all-star band recordings is the obvious love each player has for Davis and Coltrane, and their respect for one another as they cooperate, not compete, in creating rich, authentic music. On this recording, it is obvious that this was more than "just another gig" -- indeed, they sound like an extraordinary, regular band, something both Davis and 'Trane would really appreciate.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

12 Essential Kate Bush Songs

While Kate Bush is a national treasure in the UK, American listeners don't know her as well. The following 12 songs capture her irrepressible spirit.

Music

Tatsuya Nakatani and Shane Parish Replace Form with Risk on 'Interactivity'

The more any notions of preconceived musicality are flicked to the curb, the more absorbing Tatsuya Nakatani and Shane Parish's Interactivity gets.

Music

Martin Green's Junkshop Yields the Gritty, Weird Story of Britpop Wannabes

Featuring a litany of otherwise-forgotten budget bin purchases, Martin Green's two-disc overview of coulda-been Britpop contenders knows little of genre confines, making for a fun historical detour if nothing else.

Reviews

Haux Compellingly Explores Pain via 'Violence in a Quiet Mind'

By returning to defined moments of pain and struggle, Haux cultivates breathtaking music built on quiet, albeit intense, anguish.

Reviews

'Stratoplay' Revels in the Delicious New Wave of the Revillos

Cherry Red Records' six-disc Revillos compilation, Stratoplay, successfully charts the convoluted history of Scottish new wave sensations.

Reviews

Rising Young Jazz Pianist Micah Thomas Debuts with 'Tide'

Micah Thomas' Tide is the debut of a young jazz pianist who is comfortable and fluent in a "new mainstream": abstraction as well as tonality, freedom as well as technical complexity.

Music

Why Australia's Alice Ivy Doesn't Want to Sleep

Alice Ivy walks a fine line between chillwave cool and Big Beat freakouts, and her 2018 debut record was an electropop wonder. Now, in the middle of a pandemic, she tries to keep the good vibes going with a new record decked out in endless collaborations.

Books

Five Women Who Fought the Patriarchy

Whether one chooses to read Square Haunting for the sketches of the five fascinating women, or to understand how misogyny and patriarchy constricted intellectual and public life in the period, Francesca Wade's book is a superb achievement.

Film

Director Denis Côté on Making Film Fearlessly

In this interview with PopMatters, director Denis Côté recalls 2010's Curling (now on Blu-Ray) discusses film as a "creative experiment in time", and making films for an audience excited by the idea of filling in playful narrative gaps.

Music

Learning to Take a Picture: An Interview With Inara George

Inara George is unafraid to explore life's more difficult and tender moments. Discussion of her latest music, The Youth of Angst, leads to stories of working with Van Dyke Parks and getting David Lee Roth's musical approval.

Music

Country Westerns Bask in an Unparalleled Sound and Energy on Their Debut

Country Westerns are intent on rejecting assumptions about a band from Nashville while basking in an unparalleled sound and energy.

Film

Rediscovering Japanese Director Tomu Uchida

A world-class filmmaker of diverse styles, we take a look at Tomu Uchida's very different Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji and The Mad Fox.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.