New disc and tour celebrate Miles Davis’ Indian influence

Miles Davis remains one of the planet's most influential musicians and bandleaders. From the 1940s until his death in 1991, the trumpeter consistently reflected, catalyzed, and instigated cultural advances. In the 1960s, his taste crossed cultural boundaries, taking influences from Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and Sly Stone as much as from African rhythms and Indian ragas. During that same era, jazz developed a common ground with Indian music, which involved improvisation based on modes instead of chord changes. Davis expanded on that concept, employing Indian musicians on his controversial album On the Corner (most notably tabla drummer Badal Roy, who became a band regular).

While producer and Davis scholar Bob Belden was remixing Corner for its deluxe 2007 multidisc rerelease, he thought "about what it would sound like if you could do Miles compositions with Indian musicians." Thus the new album Miles ... from India was conceived, wherein veterans of Davis' bands and recent generations of musicians from India collaborate. The double-CD set was assembled from sessions in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Mumbai, and Madras, yet the tracks work together seamlessly. Davis' timeless pre-electric ballad "Blue in Green" is surreally recast with raga overtones and Mike Stern's searing guitar without losing any of its tenderness. Another Davis classic, "Spanish Key," gets a feverish workout, the chunky American and vigorous Indian rhythms perfectly offsetting one another.

Ron Carter helps evoke the spirit of Miles Davis' music.
Jimmy Katz

Ron Carter helps evoke the spirit of Miles Davis' music.

Serving as conductor, Belden assembled many of the musicians involved in the project and has taken to the road, performing live what had been accomplished on Miles via studio technology. With his spare, exceedingly lyrical style, trumpeter Wallace Roney ghosts beautifully for Davis. Also on this caravan are Roy, underrated guitar wizard Pete Cosey, saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, acoustic bassist Ron Carter, and sitarist K.V. Mahabala. This concert, and the album that originated it, makes plain the everlasting possibilities that remain for Miles Davis' music.

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