1. So What? - Houston Person
2. Freddy Freeloader - Papa John DeFrancesco
3. Blue In Green - Russell Gunn
4. All Blues - Arthur Blythe
5. Flamenco Sketches - Eric Reed
6. All Blues - Mark Murphy
7. So What? - Quartette Indigo
8. All Blues - Jimmy Ponder
Much has been made of the 50th anniversary of Miles Davis's album
Kind of Blue - rather too much, in my opinion. I'll admit that
it was a best-seller and popularised the idea of improvising on modes
instead of chord sequences. However, I'm always sceptical of the "revolutions"
that Miles Davis supposedly created, when it seems that he often tried
things out without knowing what their effect would be. This openness
may be admirable but its hit-and-miss effect is obvious from some
of the poor albums that Miles made in his later years.
At any rate, Kind of Blue was very influential, as we know
from the number of times its tunes have subsequently been performed.
In fact the Davis album only contained five tunes, so one of them
(So What?) appears on this CD twice and another (All Blues)
three times. Yet this adds to the interest of the new album: hearing
how different musicians interpret the same piece diversely.
For instance, altoist Arthur Blythe's version of All Blues
starts with a long, almost oriental drone and Bob Stewart's tuba growls
out the underlying riff. Blythe's improvisation on the theme has some
of the wild unexpectedness of John Coltrane, but the tuba tends to
tether the tune to the ground, cancelling out the intrinsic lightness
in the piece. Mark Murphy performs a vocal version of the tune, using
the lyrics added by Oscar Brown Jr., who is not among the sleeve credits.
And Jimmy Ponder gives us All Blues on guitar, in duet with
the strumming piccolo bass of Dwayne Dolphin.
Of the other tracks, I love Papa John DeFrancesco's reading of Freddy
Freeloader (wasn't it spelt "Freddie" on Miles' original
album?). DeFrancesco really puts a strong groove into the tune, with
bluesy solos from John's son Joey, tenor-saxist Bootsy Barnes and
guitarist Melvin Sparks. Tenorist Houston Person is his usual impeccable
self in So What? This is a more straightforward version than
Quartette Indigo's string-laden interpretation, with cellist Akua
Dixon stating the theme and violinist Regina Carter soloing lyrically.
The cello supplies a more-than-adequate walking bass.
Flamenco Sketches is probably the least famous piece on the
original album but pianist Eric Reed coaxes out all its gloriously
melodic possibilities, reminding the listener that Bill Evans probably
had a hand in composing it.
This new disc may have been issued to take advantage of the publicity
about the 50th anniversary but, after all that hoo-ha, it is refreshing
to hear these varied takes which prove that the tunes may be familiar
but they still contain plenty of potential.