Monday, February 11, 2013

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Miles Away is the second offering from Madlib's Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz & Percussion Ensemble. The first, Summer Suite, was only available in limited quantities in Japan. The title here is an obvious nod to Miles Davis, but it’s only a nod. Each of these ten tracks is dedicated to a jazz artist -- butMiles isn’t among them. The sources are less obvious except to hardcore fans of '70s jazz as it met soul, funk, African rhythms, and Middle Eastern and Indo-Asian sounds. The heavy percussion and drum mantra that opens the set on “Derf" (for Derf Reklaw) is the first of many shape-shifting identities this music brings to the listener. It evolves within a minute into a soulful, mantra-like spiritual jazz tome for flute, piano, and imaginative drum and percussion interplay. “Waltz for Woody" (for Woody Shaw) uses the late trumpeter’s sense of modally oriented post-bop as a kickoff with rumbling basses, shimmering cymbals and snares, the sounds of steel drums, spacious darkly tinged pianos, and plenty of reverb -- without once using a trumpet. “Shades of Phil" (for Phil Ranelin) employs layers of spaced-out synths, groove-laden basslines, repetitive piano, and popping hand percussion and drums to create a music that echoes the spirit of music that Ranelin’s Tribe made in Detroit during the ‘70s. “Mystic Voyage" (for Roy Ayers) is one of the most appealing tracks here, as bell and vibraphone timbres and plucked strings from a variety of sources -- including harp -- are nocturnal, funky, and cosmic. The most experimental-sounding piece is the glorious “Tones for Larry Young,” which embodies -- via the layering of organ sounds and spacious distortion -- the spirit of his work with both Lifetime and his groundbreaking late work on Blue Note. The set closes with its finest moment, “The Trane and the Pharoah" (for John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders), a souled-out spiritual jazz number that moves the basic changes from “A Love Supreme” up an octave and adds loads of marimbas, flutes, organs, synths, and electric bass to a hypnotic groove that constantly evolves. Miles Away isn’t just a collection of Madlib tracks, but a fully realized and brilliantly conceived and executed jazz album that uses rhythm, melody, textures, and dynamics to offer not only a tribute to the sources of its inspirations, but a new approach to electronic jazz in the 21st century.


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