Sunday, June 01, 2008

Miles... from India,. Samba Ngo, Savage Jazz at Malonga Casquelourde Theatre

Miles from India at SFJAZz last night was awesome. The first set featured new arrangements from the composer, musician, and fellow Gemini (May 26, 1926)--Miles Davis (died September 28, 1991) who was brilliant. Al Young (California poet laureate whose birthday is today) spoke to me about Davis, who was supposed to be a doctor and ended up playing music professionally to the dismay of his middle, or upper-middle class family. This project imagines the international direction the virtuoso's music might have taken, had he lived a bit longer. (A friend of mine told me there is a hip hop Miles' influenced CD about to drop, if it already hasn't.) Miles...seems to be in the air this season.

The concert was sold out, so SFJAZZ will begin it's next season with a reprise of this concert, with different artists. There were 11 on stage yesterday, just a fraction of the artists on the 2-CD project, named of course, Miles... from India, musicians who are Miles veterans and others who are influenced by the music. The project was recorded in various places and then mastered so that one can't tell that a portion was recorded in Chicago, another in New York, still another in Southern California. I don't remember if anything was recorded in India, but maybe.

The producer, Bob Belden, opened the program. He'd approached Yusef Gandhi, who heads Times Square Records, with the idea. Gandhi knew Indian classical music and its musicians, and Belden who had been working on a Miles' boxset from Miles Davis' "On the Corner recordings, back in 1972 when Davis used tabla and sitar in these sessions. It was the perfect and in April the CD was released. But it was just a studio recording, until SFJAZZ added the performance to its Spring Season for this year.

The set opened with a few pieces from Davis' Kinda Blue, which will have its 50th Anniversary in 2009. The songs were: So What, Blue and Green and All Blue.

There were two drumsets on stage, a center platform for the Indian musicians to sit on, and on either side there was a piano, keyboards, guitar stands and electric bass stands, plus an unpright bass.

Ron Carter opened All Blue with a lovely solo. One of the Miles alumni, it was great seeing him on stage with the amazing talent. I wish I could juxtapose the two images, now and then. It would have been really cool to have Miles footage or even stills as a back drop, with Carter and the other Miles' alumni playing the various songs. After Carter finished, Rudresh Mahanthappa, on alto saxophone, began playing. He was also excellent--the level of music there was sublime...the CD captures it, but to hear it live was such a treat.

The Indian vocalist (male) traded riffs with the sitarist, but not like the trades the violinist put down. She was great on Blue and Green. Commanding, the poor guy couldn't keep she just smiled and left him in the dust. (I'm just kidding.) But really, Kala Ramnath is an excellent musician, who sang in the season set when the program shifted to Electric Miles--Bitches Brew on of the albums sampled.

I just loved, "So What." it began with this really cool verbal percussion thing India musicians do when they scat the rhythms as they play the tabla. And oh my goodness, the tabla player--his solo during the second set was off the hook! The guy was haven't heard improvised music until you see how jazz is interpreted by other musicians from other cultures on instruments we're not as familiar with. It was like the first time I saw Zakir Hussain and Charles Lloyd and Eric Harland a few years at this same venue. The man was hot--

And I can't say enough about the pianist and the cool drummers. Like I said, there were three of them, two Miles alumni, but the brother on my right, cymbals hanging from above, was dancing on his drums. Leon Ndugu Chancler playing with his hands and sticks, was just fun to watch. The other drummer, Vince, I think his name was, had on a hat and was cool--he played well, especially in tandem with the other drummer who switched between both drumsets. I loved the percussion aspect of the project...and central element or aspect percussion had in each musical moment.

That's one thing about Indian and African music, the percussion drives it. Perhaps this was the connection the shared cultural language.

Okay, so this is the first set and then we have a brief intermission, where I try to read my notes, written in the dark. The second set, I couldn't write fast enough, so I only know that Ron Carter disappeared for the rest of the evening and so did the sitarist. The ensemble was joined by Henry Kaiser on electric guitar, there was another musician on synthesizer, and Benny Rietvled on electric bass.

The second set included pieces from In a Silent Way: It's about That Time; something from Bitches Brew, Ife, and Jean Pierre.

With Wallace Roney on trumpet the second set was grooving. Roney and Kala Ramneth traded vocally, then on the encore she picked up her violin. He was all over the place musically--tight, he was the glue that gave the work--Electric Miles its thematic grounding. It was great seeing Roney who we see all to seldom on this coast.
They were swinging and I was dancing in my seat and then it was over, but the lights didn't come I knew they were coming back, so I moved closer so I could see what the artists' looked like.

In row R they were a blue, just as Rosa Passas was last week from the balcony. I moved closer to see her when she gave a second and third encore. I'll have to take my binoculars for Keb'Mo and Taj Mahal June 20.

So we leave about 10:30 headed for Berkeley to see Samba Ngo at Ashkenaz. I haven't been to Ashkenaz in months and Samba Ngo, Congolese musician and composer, was the balm I needed to celebrate the end of my 11th year in the Peralta College District and the Spring 2008 semester.

My companion and I walked into the top of the Nog's second set and I danced until 1:30 a.m. As the hours passed, the floor cleared and I had more and more room to circulate--I had a lot I needed to let go of as I drank water and let the stress leak from my pours as I felt the past 18 weeks evaporate.

It was a marvelous experience.

This entire weekend has been marvelous, from Savage Jazz Dance home season at the Malonga theatre in downtown Oakland, which closes this afternoon at 3 p.m., to last night's wonderful evening of international music--Samba said jazz was from Congo (I smiled), to this afternoon's final performance of Cristina Moura's "like an idiot" at Dance Mission, a part of the San Francisco International Art Festival. (I'll be grading finals until them, once I post this :-)


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