posted Aug 23, 2010, 9:40 PM by Louiz Banks   [ updated Aug 23, 2010, 9:47 PM ]

Miles from India by Brendon Griffin
This bills itself as no less than “the next step in the evolution of Indo-American jazz fusion,” attempting to update excerpts from some of the most iconic and influential albums ever recorded… not much to live up to then! Instigator Bob Belden must be used to herculean tasks by now, though, with last year’s On the Corner box set being about as exhaustive as jazz gets. It was while trawling those sessions that he apparently came up with the idea of Miles from India, its title perhaps an unwitting pun on just how far out the original On the Corner record actually was; miles from earth, never mind the subcontinent.

For the most part, this is a much more recognisable fusion, not so far removed from the albums referenced in the press release (Talvin Singh’s Anokha, Bill Laswell and Zakir Hussain’s Tabla Matrix, etc.), from the excellent Indo-fusions not mentioned in the press release (Charles Lloyd’s Sangam, current UK press raves The Teak Project), nor—check the sarod reincarnation of “In a Silent Way (intro)”—even from the spirit of Ry Cooder and V.M. Bhatt’s celebrated A Meeting by the River.

Less recognisable is its genesis: percussion tracks recorded in Madras and Bombay, with the Americans laying their parts over the top from the comfort of their respective cities, some of them via Skype-assisted video conference. If that sounds far too hi-tech for its own good, not to mention terminally removed from the reality of Davis’s ‘70s sessions (await the call, plug in and jam, with no guarantee of when—or if—anything recorded would actually surface), it does echo to a certain extent the cut-and-paste strategy of Miles’s late producer, Teo Macero.

And judging by the paranoid stomp of “Great Expectations”, it achieves to some degree as aback-takingly brazen a result, even if it can’t quite hope to zone in on the otherworldly oscillation of the Joe Zawinul-penned original. Coming on like John Surman with a rictus grin, Marcus Miller’s bass clarinet furrows relentlessly into places it shouldn’t, hammered on by Vince Milburn’s drums. Miller and Milburn are, of course, both Davis alumni from the ‘80s, but the real thrill here—and the thrill of much of the album in general—is hearing Pete Cosey afforded the chance to time travel, his staccato, scrapmetal harangues hurling us right back into the mid-’70s, while at the same time imparting a visceral sense of what Bitches Brew and Big Fun might have sounded like had he got in on Davis’s electric act just a few years earlier. This is multicultural fission: Ravi Chary’s sitar burns opaque, his fingers ripping through the scales, and it’s here, more than anywhere else on the album, that Wallace Roney’s trumpet sounds as random, detached, and dangerous enough to suggest the ghost of ‘70s Miles on the lam.

As well as being the most compelling track on the album, “Great Expectations” is ironically—along with a fairly faithful “All Blues”, in which it’s almost a novelty to hear Chari trace the melody line on his sitar—one of the less overtly Indian in content, doubly ironic given that the album it originally surfaced on, 1974’s Big Fun , remains Davis’s most obviously Indian in influence. But then Miles embraced Indian music as but one of many ways to sonic enlightenment, employing Badal Roy’s sitar and tabla, for example, as just another link in the circuitry of On the Corner’s rocket-funk. Roy’s here too, of course, linking with Cosey for the tabla trance of “Ife (Slow)”. In many ways, Miles from India is a reimagining of Davis’s career, a fantasy of what his records might’ve sounded like had Indian phrasing and instrumentation in fact loomed much larger in his work than they did. And while it couldn’t hope to recreate the frazzled, interplanetary craft-ed soundworld of those years, it attempts to communicate with it in the language of a future Miles never lived to see. The end result is an ingeniously conceived and arranged, flawlessly executed, and intermittently blazing fusion appealing perhaps as much to the casual world music fan as the dedicated electric Miles obsessive.

Opener “Spanish Key” sets the tone: a frighentingly acute recreation of Davis’s vaporous horn (Roney is the only man for the job), matched by Louiz Banks/Adam Holzman’s equally lifelike Zawinul-isms. Whether this is actually a good thing is probably best gauged in the degree to which these players accommodate the Indian talent around them, or at least the degree to which the diffuse recording process makes it sound that way, entering into an exploratory dialogue with the wordless supplication of Shankar Mahadevan, before a raft of drums and subcontinental percussion lock the whole thing into its twenty-minute course. Mahadevan’s mystic scat—swelled by Rakesh Chaurasia’s flute—becomes the fulcrum of the East-West exchange, which, as the pugnacious funk of Rudresh Mahanthappa’s alto suggests, surges in both directions.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the record is the way in which it uses its foreigness to draw parallels between different stages in Davis’s career. Witness how Mahadevan’s vocals apparently join unlikely dots between the late ‘60s and the late ‘50s, between the balladry of “Blue in Green” and the dynamism of “Spanish Key”. But what really impresses is the groove, a polyrhythmic insistence at odds with the the creeping pulse of Bitches Brew, and which reasserts itself—initially through snapping vocal percussion—on both a Ron Carter/Chick Corea steered “So What” and a mercurial, Cosey-piloted, Henderson-hypnotised “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down”. “Ife (Fast)” tones down the percussion, but ramps up the contrast, building around Michael Henderson’s bass and lacerated in turn by the tonal slice of Kala Ramnath’s carnatic violin—itself taking centre stage on a radically reworked “It’s About That Time”—and Cosey’s sclerotic flange, climaxing in a virtuoso flourish worthy of a cossack. All the while the disembodied spirits of the original compositions hover under the surface, communicating in code, occasionally, disarmingly, revealing their true idenity.
The sole original composition is John McLaughlin’s title track, programmed as the closer, and—in its curiously Dave Gilmour-esque overtones—very different in feel to the rest of the album, more an extended epilogue. About the only thing that might have Miles rolling in his grave is the intro/outro of “Jean Pierre”, which seemingly approximates the whistling frequencies of Tuvan throat singing, a faux pas in as much as it smacks of unnecessary gimmickry as for the fact that it jars with the sprightliness of the theme. And on a purely subjective note, it would’ve been great to hear some reworkings from Get Up With It, still arguably the most underrated of Davis’s ‘70s studio records. Perhaps these Indian players could have afforded new insight into the coiled obscurity of Miles’s Ellington tribute, “He Love Him Madly”, or turned “Maiysha” on its beautiful behind. But let’s be thankful for what we’ve got, a coruscating cross-continental celebration of one of popular music’s most revelatory cul de sacs, simultaneously avoiding the slavishness of the average tribute and affording a rare showcase for some of the subcontinent’s most talented classical musicians. Who knows, it might even turn the uninitiated on to the original albums. Could anyone involved hope for more?

Released: April, 15, 2008
Record Label: Times Square

1 Spanish Key 19:44
2 All Blues 9:21
3 Ide (Fast) 8:41
4 In a Silent Way 2:33
5 It's About That Time 10:00
6 Jean Pierre 11:36
7 So What 8:09
8 Miles Runs the Voodoo Down 9:03
9 Blue in Green 13:07
10 Great Expectations 8:39
11 Ife (Slow) 14:11
12 Miles from India 6:53

Listen & Buy this album online click here


posted Aug 23, 2010, 9:29 PM by Louiz Banks

In 2007, during an extended stay in Madras, India, an inspired John McLaughlin was overwhelmed with a sudden burst of creativity; which produced eight new songs. Rather than waiting until he returned to Monaco, he decided to record the new pieces in India featuring some of the "young lions" of India’s music scene.

The result is Floating Point, John McLaughlin’s debut studio CD release on Abstract Logix. According to John, the Floating Point is the sensation musicians can experience when a band is really clickin’ and the music goes to a higher level; the change of consciousness feels like you’re floating.

Floating Point builds upon, refines, and stretches the musical direction in progress on 2006’s Industrial Zen. Instead of using a variety of musician line-ups, this recording has a single rhythm section supporting McLaughlin and a featured soloist. The twist on this CD has the Indian musicians playing in a "western music" framework: i.e. improvising over chords and working with the harmony. This concept, combined with the Indian instruments, imbues McLaughlin’s jazz fusion with a noticeably different feel. Floating Point has a very unique "world" quality. But that’s just the beginning.

As John relates the Floating Point to the interaction between musicians, it could also apply to the music itself. McLaughlin is a master of merging/blending the music of the East and West, but on Floating Point the method is slightly different. John brings the East and West close together, but he doesn’t let them touch: like the hands in the "Creation of Adam" on the Sistine Chapel. The rhythms of the East serve as a foundation while the harmony of the West is suspended above them; each moving parallel to the other at the same time – and the effect on your senses is startling! Your ears react to the melodies, your body reacts to the rhythms; and your mind has to connect the two. But as Funkadelic rightly put it, "Free your mind...and your ass will follow."

McLaughlin’s love of rhythm – and drummers – is given free reign on Floating Point. In fact, the drummers steal the show. Ranjit Barot is killin’ on every track! Sivamani, who’s also burnin’, provides an additional rhythmic undercurrent and counterpoint to Barot. With Barot playing propulsive polyrhythms and expressive embellishment on the kit, and Sivamani – matching him stroke for stroke – weaving in and out and around the rhythms on percussion, the resulting maelstrom creates a sense of relentless dynamic energy (and unresolved tension) within the songs.

McLaughlin’s understanding of Indian music is essential here. John avoids the cliched "drummer keeping a static 4/4 funk beat and a guy tapping bongos" routine (all together now..."smmooooth jaaazz") and unchains the drumming tandem. He lets the drummers improvise, subdivide and extend the rhythms without the restriction – and limits – of a single groove within the songs.

Bass phenom Hadrien Feraud and keyboardist Louiz Banks round out the rhythm section. Feraud was not available for the recording sessions in India and added his parts later in Monaco. But plenty of space was left for him to play his melodic bass lines and jaw-dropping solos. Louiz Banks handles most of the accompaniment, allowing McLaughlin to mix it up with the stellar cast of guest musicians.

Some highlights of the CD:

"Abbaji (for Alla Rakha)": named after and dedicated to the master tabla player (and Zakir Hussain’s father). The pensive melody and chords of a mid-tempo blues hover over drums that sound like the jugalbandi of a raga. That sense of two independent styles playing at the same time flows throughout Floating Point, and is wonderfully shown on this piece.

"Off The One": one of my favorite tracks. Shashank on bamboo flute gives this piece a little more of an eastern feel; and he really soars during his solo. Again, the drummers really keep things percolating.

"The Voice": this could be a companion piece to "Mother Nature" from Industrial Zen. Where Shankar Mahadevan lets loose with his wordless vocals at the end of that song, here he rips (and riffs) through the whole tune. He always sends a chill through me when I hear him sing!

"1 4 U": another favorite track of mine. Without a doubt, this is one of the catchiest – that’s right, catchiest – songs in the JMcL songbook. This CD isn’t just about complex rhythms, it is also VERY melodic. If radio play lists weren’t so restricted, this tune could be coming from your car speakers. Naveen Kumar on bamboo flute trading licks with John on this piece is a real treat.

"Five Peace Band": after Niladri Kumar’s blistering solo on electric sitar, everyone had to be floating when this track was being laid down.

In the March ’85 issue of Down Beat, John McLaughlin said, "I’m a guitar player – that’s what I am primarily; that’s what I’ll always be. I like to write music, but a guitar player’s all I ever want to be. I want to be better and better, just as I want to be a better person." But his guitar playing can overshadow the complete musician and artist that is John McLaughlin. John the composer produced a consistently strong collection of intricate and melodic songs. John the dreamer had the vision to conceptualize and carry out this project; stretching the boundaries of music – again. John the believer has to have faith in music he doesn’t know from where it comes and directed with no idea where it is supposed to go. With a life in music spanning more than 50 years, there is a degree of certitude that we have of John McLaughlin and his music. Standards deemed impossible for others to reach we consider "the norm" for him. But whatever standards we hold him to, the standards he sets for himself are infinitely higher. Floating Point is another amazing example of just how high those standards are.

John McLaughlin - Guitar & Guitar Synthesizer
Ranjit Barot - Drums
Sivamani - Percussion
Louiz Banks - Keyboards
Hadrien Feraud - Bass Guitar
With Special Guests:
George Brooks - Soprano Saxophone
Debashish Bhattacharya - Hindustani Slide Guitar
Shashank - Bamboo Flute
Shankar Mahadevan - Vocals
U. Rajesh - Electric Mandolin
Naveen Kumar - Bamboo Flute
Niladri Kumar - Zitar

1. Abbaji (for Alla Rakha) 
2. Raju 
3. Maharina 
4. Off The One 
5. The Voice 
6. Inside Out 
7. 1 4 U 
8. Five Peace Band

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