Various Artists: Miles Ahead Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Don Cheadle, director and star of Miles Ahead, has assembled a mostly enticing soundtrack to his film, though still peppered with a few inessentials.

Various Artists

Miles Ahead Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Label: Sony / Legacy
US Release Date: 2016-04-01
UK Release Date: 2016-04-01
Label website

Be aware that Miles Ahead is not an attempt to comprehensively summarize the career of the late Miles Davis. It's just a soundtrack to a film directed by Don Cheadle, who also plays the main subject. Not to be confused with the 1957 record of the same name (obviously), this Miles Ahead is the equivalent of dipping one of your toes into one of the pools in a 20-acre water park. Cheadle and his co-producer, modern jazz icon Robert Glasper, know full well that they can't cover all major points of Davis's colorful career on one piece of plastic. That's especially the case when this film's main focus is on the late trumpet player's restless latter-day career. They do what they can but also take a great deal of liberties along the way.

About three-quarters of the Miles Ahead soundtrack belongs to Davis himself. Of the 11 tracks selected from the great Miles Davis back catalog, eight of them are edits or excerpts of longer tracks. Room needs to be made for a handful of Glasper's originals and Cheadle's bites of "dialogue". I put that word in quotation marks because of the eight tracks that feature Don Cheadle speaking Davis's words in his intimidating rasp, only two of them feature the voices of another character. These brief tracks may or may not be harbingers of whatever music follows. For example, in track five, Cheadle (as Davis) asks radio DJ Phil Schaap to play "Solea" from Sketches of Spain. An excerpt of "Solea" promptly follows on track six.

But what do we make of track 18 where Cheadle rhetorically asks someone "Ya'll listening to them? That's how this shit's supposed to sound", only to find the Glasper original "Junior's Jam" on track 19? The self-administering pats on the back don't end there. "What's Wrong With That?", a tune featured in the final scenes of the film, features Glasper, drummer Antonio Sanchez, bassist Esperenza Spaulding, and guitarist Gary Clark, Jr. If it weren't for the participation of Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter on the track, it would come with an uncomfortable whiff of "Dude, if Miles were alive, he'd totally want to jam with us!" The end credit composition "Gone 2015" wanders close to this territory with a rap performance by Pharoahe Monch. "I wonder all the time," Cheadle writes in the liner notes, "were Miles still here, who he would be collaborating with today. Kendrick Lamar, Kamasi Washington, D'Angelo, Jack White...#SocialMusic." I'm reminded of that old adage about assumptions.

One thing I would like to give Cheadle credit for is, when selected original Miles Davis recordings for the soundtrack, he didn't gently tip-toe around his controversial electric period. There's the Jack Johnson outtake "Duran", "Go Head John" which migrated from the aforementioned record to Big Fun, "Black Satin" from On the Corner, "Prelude II" from the double live album Agharta, and "Back Seat Betty" from The Man With the Horn. Yeah, I know, no Bitches Brew or In a Silent Way, but it's nice to see Davis's lesser-known fusion records receiving preferential treatment this time around. Of the three tracks that didn't get sliced up, two are likely to be considered more sacred by jazz geeks than any track previously mentioned. "So What" appears in all of its nine-minute glory while an uncut "Miles Ahead" gets the first slot on the CD. The third tune in question is "Frelon Brun", the leadoff track from Filles de Kilimanjaro. This was a record that captured Davis second classic quintet in the midst of heavy transition. In less than one year, Hancock and Ron Carter were to move on to other projects.

It's hard to make a soundtrack that's terrible when the subject of your film is Miles Davis. When it comes to selecting from Davis's original recordings, Don Cheadle admirably takes the road less traveled. In fact, the quality and uniqueness of his selections makes me wonder if he and Robert Glasper needed to write and record any new music at all. But as drummer Jack DeJohnette assured me back in 2011, "...Miles was always in the present." Or as Cheadle recites in track five, "time capsule's for old shit."


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.

20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta

19. Antwood: Sponsored Content (Planet Mu)

Sponsored Content is a noisy, chaotic, occasionally beautiful work with a dark sense of humor that's frequently deployed to get Antwood's point across. For instance, throughout the aforementioned "Disable Ad Blocker", which sounds mostly like the creepy side of Tangerine Dream's early '80s experimental output, distorted slogans and recognizable themes worm their way into the mix. "I'm Loving It", we hear at one point, the Sony PlayStation startup music at another. And then there's a ten-second clip of what sounds like someone getting killed in a horror movie. What is there to make of the coexistence of those sorts of samples? Probably nothing explicit, just the uneasiness of benign and instantly-recognizable brand content in the midst of harsh, difficult art. Perhaps quality must to some extent be tied to sponsorship. That Antwood can make this point amidst blasts and washes of experimental electronic mayhem is quite the achievement. - Mike Schiller

18. Bonobo - Migration (Ninja Tune)

Although Bonobo, a.k.a. Simon Green, has been vocal in the past about not making personality driven music, Migration is, in many respects, a classic sounding Bonobo record. Green continues to build sonic collages out of chirping synths, jazz-influenced drums, sweeping strings and light touches of piano but on Migration sounds more confident than ever. He has an ability to tap into the emotions like few others such as on the gorgeous "Break Apart" and the more percussive "Surface". However, Bonobo also works to broaden his sound. The electro-classical instrumental "Second Sun" floats along wistfully, sounding like it could have fit snugly onto a Erased Tapes compilation, while the precise and intricate "Grains" shows the more intimate and reflective side of his work. On the flipside, the higher tempo, beat driven tracks such as "Outlier" and "Kerala" perfectly exhibit his understanding of what works on the dance floor while on "Bambro Koyo Ganda" he even weaves North African rhythms into the fabric. Migration is a multifaceted album full of personality and all the better for it. - Paul Carr

17. Kiasmos - Blurred EP (Erased Tapes)

The Icelandic duo of Olafur Arnalds and Janus Rasmussen, aka Kiasmos, is a perfect example of a pair of artists coming from two very different musical backgrounds, finding an unmistakable common ground to create something genuinely distinctive. Arnalds, more known for his minimal piano and string work, and Rasmussen, approaching from a more electropop direction, have successfully explored the middle ground between their different musical approaches and in doing so crafted affecting minimalist electronic music. Blurred is one of the most emotionally engaging electronic releases of the year. The duo is working from a refined and bright sonic palette as they consummately layer fine, measured sounds together. It is an intricate yet unforced and natural sounding set of songs with every song allowed room to bloom gradually. - Paul Carr

16. Ellen Allien - Nost (BPitch Control)

BPitch boss and longtime lynchpin of the DJ scene in Berlin, Ellen Allien's seven full-length releases show an artist constantly reinventing herself. Case in point, her 2013 offering, LISm, was a largely beat-less ambient work designed to accompany an artsy dance piece, while its follow-up, 2017's Nost, is a hardcore techno journey, spiritually born in the nightclubs and warehouses of the early '90s. It boasts nine straight techno bangers, beautifully minimalist arrangements with haunting vocals snippets and ever propulsive beats, all of which harken back to a hallowed, golden, mostly-imagined age when electronic music was still very much underground, and seemingly anything was possible. - Alan Ranta

It's just past noon on a Tuesday, somewhere in Massachusetts and Eric Earley sounds tired.

Since 2003, Earley's band, Blitzen Trapper, have combined folk, rock and whatever else is lying around to create music that manages to be both enigmatic and accessible. Since their breakthrough album Furr released in 2008 on Sub Pop, the band has achieved critical acclaim and moderate success, but they're still some distance away from enjoying the champagne lifestyle.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.