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Jazz review

Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter pay tribute to Miles Davis

April 24, 2013|By Chris Barton

There was a central problem with the "Tribute to Miles" concert at Disney Hall Tuesday night, and it was readily acknowledged from the stage.

"How do you look back on someone who refused to look back himself?" asked bassist and former Davis collaborator Marcus Miller midway through the set. Miller was explaining how he put together the band, which in addition to trumpeter Sean Jones and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta also featured two of Davis' most famous bandmates in Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter.

Although Miller brings up a real paradox to honoring Davis -- an artist who turned jazz on its head somewhere between three and five times -- it hasn't stopped people from trying. In addition to an endless churn of reissues and live "bootlegs" released since the trumpeter's death in 1991 (if another doesn't come out this year, look for more in the next), the number of concerts honoring Davis has multiplied to the point that more people have heard Davis' music on the road in recent years than while the man was alive and performing.

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Last year saw tours from a multimedia Miles Davis Experience fronted by Ambrose Akinmusire, as well as the tribute to "Kind of Blue" led by ex-Davis drummer Jimmy Cobb and Miller's own "Tutu Revisited," which honors Davis' late-career output. The L.A. Phil also weighed in last summer with a celebration of Davis at the Hollywood Bowl that featured the latter two groups and another honoring his electric period.

So how did Tuesday's show till new ground? Describing the night as a "soundtrack to Miles' dreams," Miller and his all-star band freely drew from across the trumpeter's career, allowing songs and eras to flow into each other with little regard for borders.

The night got off to a bit of a rocky start with a take on Davis' "Walkin'" from 1956 that was hampered by the booming, funk-leaning sound from Miller's electric bass and Colaiuta, who both briefly overwhelmed Hancock's piano as Shorter and Jones locked together behind him. Two of Davis' periods were meeting, but not entirely getting along.

But as the night went on, the group and its goals coalesced. A simmering "Milestones" rode a shuffling rhythm from Colaiuta as Jones' trumpet lines countered Hancock's delicate piano, and the song seamlessly bled into "All Blues," which turned on an expressive turn from Shorter on tenor saxophone.

Segueing into "Directions" from Davis' contentious electric period, the transition felt natural atop an explosive rock drive from the rhythm section as Jones leaned into furious trumpet wails that expanded upon the original's fiery drive. The song built to a sprint, briefly nodding toward elsewhere in Davis' "Bitches Brew" period before settling into the contemplative "In a Silent Way." Miller then switched to a murmuring bass clarinet, which gave way to cool washes of electronics from Hancock.

After Miller's introduction, the group stayed a bit longer with some of Davis' pieces in the second half of the evening, including an extended "Someday My Prince Will Come" that began with Shorter whistling a snippet of melody before returning to his horn. They eventually closed with a nod toward "Footprints" anchored by a churning drive from Miller that gave way to an off-kilter piano turn from Hancock.

In maybe the night's sharpest moment, the group locked into the locomotive swing of "Dr. Jackle," a trip back to Davis' pre-"Kind of Blue" output that rode an insistent drive from Colaiuta and Miller, who for the only time of the night shifted to acoustic.

Jones, Shorter and Hancock took turns probing into the song's decades-old melody as the group lit into the song's manic pace and turned it new directions. Though Davis might not have appreciated yet another look back, there's no denying the results kept moving forward.

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Twitter: @chrisbarton

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