Sky Garden: Yo Miles


aec.cun750191.2 5/4/04 New
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    Sky Garden: Yo Miles Cuneiform Records

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Review Text Sky Garden and Upriver were recorded at the same sessions, featuring the same band. A parallel can be drawn to Miles' Pangaea and Agharta, which were both recorded on the same day by the same band. Agharta was the afternoon show and Pangaea the evening show, and it's reflected in the performances. Agharta was more aggressive and in-your-face while Pangaea was more subdued and introspective in comparison. Here, Sky Garden plays Pangaea to Upriver's Agharta: a bit moodier and playing with a bit more space, but burning with the same intensity. Where Sky Garden departs from the other entries in the Yo Miles! catalog is the number of original tunes. Yo Miles! and Upriver both had only a single original tune written by Wadada Leo Smith; Sky Garden has four tunes penned by Smith (out of 11 total) and a collaborative group effort (punningly titled "Cozy Pete" after Miles' great guitar player) making nearly half of this album original material. It's an interesting (and successful!) move for a so-called "tribute band." Here's why it all works: this is a group of consummate musicians, each with a strong solo voice, who know how to listen and work as a band. Beyond that, they've internalized this music to such a degree that a casual Miles Davis fan might be hard-pressed to differentiate between the songs that Miles himself played and which are new compositions. Highlights are numerous. Everyone gets some solo space, and they take full advantage. Smith's solos on both trumpet and electric trumpet are fantastic, as is the playing from Greg Osby and John Tchicai. The three guitarists (Henry Kaiser, Mike Keneally, and Chris Muir) are consistently dazzling and generally easy to tell apart, except on "Gemini Double Image," where someone does an absolutely amazing job of re-creating John McLaughlin's playing and tone. Michael Manring's bass playing is the same sort of anchor that Michael Henderson supplied, and Steve Smith shows why his talents were mostly wasted on Journey. "Shinjuju," one of the Smith compositions, adopts a nasty fuzz bass sound that Michael Henderson never used with Miles' band, and "Who's Targeted" has some bluesy slide guitar and a carnival organ solo. "Great Expectations" has guest percussionist Zakir Hussain trading off with Smith and Osby, with what sounds like a coral sitar in the background before Tom Coster turns in another nice solo. Only one of the 11 tracks is shorter than six minutes, and seven of the 11 are longer than ten minutes, and yet there isn't any wasted space. The playing is incredible from start to finish, and the recording quality is superb. Sky Garden is not an attempt to simply imitate the classic sounds of decades past; this is music that is vital and alive thanks to these top-notch improvisers. Anyone into Miles Davis' early-'70s legacy or folks wondering if there's any worthwhile, non-flaccid jazz fusion is urged to check out this band. They're hot. ~ Sean Westergaard

Track Listing

CD: 1

  1. 1. It's About That Time/The Mask - 10:26
  2. 2. Jabali, Pt. 1 - 7:36
  3. 3. Shinjuku - 23:38
  4. 4. Great Expectations - 35:24
  5. 5. Directions - 3:54

CD: 2

  1. 6. Sivad/Gemini Double Image/Little Church - 10:17
  2. 7. Miles Star - 10:38
  3. 8. Who's Targeted? - 21:21
  4. 9. Jabali, Pt. 2 - 14:18
  5. 10. Willie Dixon - 7:53
  6. 11. Cozy Pete - 13:43

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