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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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The Miles Davis Songbook

HighNote HCD 6022



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.

Tony Augarde

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