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Miles Davis Masterful At Bowl's Jvc Festival

August 19, 1986|LEONARD FEATHER

Let us now praise Miles Davis. Had it not been for his strength in pulling Sunday's Hollywood Bowl concert out of the doldrums, the disastrous events of the first two hours could never have been counteracted.

Tommy Hawkins, the host, announced this at the JVC Jazz Festival, thus trivializing a word that is now applied to a single, non-festive concert. The opening group, starting 20 minutes late, called itself the Hidden City String Band, an odd name for a trio composed of one violin, a percussionist who played bongos and tabla, and a guitarist. Its three-tune 20 minute appearance offered too few chances to assess any latent potential.

Off with the string band, on with--nothing. For 40 minutes all we heard was hammering, feedback, silence, and an apology for the delay due to "technical difficulties"--an embarrassing touch, since Hawkins had promised "the very best in audio and video" and the sponsor was a company involved with sound reproduction.

Finally, on with Pieces of a Dream. The former trio, now a quintet equipped with guitar and synthesizers, trudged through 40 minutes of tepid tunes, flashy keyboard by James Lloyd, and lyrical drivel sung by the bassist, Cedric Napoleon. For a grand finale we were invited to take part in a sing-along, intoning the words "Say la la."

Miles Davis, a vision in black and gold lame, played as well as he has in years. His new guitarist, Robben Ford, relates personally to Davis much the way his predecessor, John Scofield, related to the band.

Davis was in such a cordial mood that during exchanges both with Ford and with the saxophonist Bob Berg he reached up and touched his partner's shoulder as if in a gesture of congratulation. His own playing--about 75% of it muted--was masterful. Twisting himself into the familiar question mark posture, he edged way over to stage right and at least once played while walking backward. His open horn passages were performed facing the drummer Vincent Wilborn Jr.

Spyro Gyra went through its hybrid, pleasant but sometimes sterile motions. Jay Beckenstein's alto sax has an easy, buoyant sound without much personality. The solos by the Cuban guitarist Julio Fernandez and particularly by Dave Samuels on vibraphone and marimba achieved a more improvisatory feeling than Beckenstein.

The band's vast popularity can be understood when one considers its accessible tunes and generally simple appeal, typified by the number featuring Kim Stone, the bassist. The title was "Bob Goes to a Store," which, he explained, referred to his dog. Beckenstein observed, in an interview in The Times on Saturday, "We're getting away with murder." I would stop short of that. A more accurate assessment would be larceny. Attendance: 16,941.

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