By: Steve Feeney, The Arts Fuse
This album does an excellent job of recapturing some of the glory of the original Miles Davis recordings.
Miles Davis (1926-91) has been gone quite a while now. But box sets and bootlegs of his music continue to appear, so his spirit is still very much around — amusing, inspiring, and enlightening. A few surviving Davis sidemen are also serving Davis’s legacy with albums devoted to his music. Among those intrepid champions of the master’s oeuvre is Dave Liebman, a sax player who participated in one of the powered-up units of Miles’ classic “electric” period (the early to mid-1970s).
Liebman is a major presence on the recently released On the Corner Live: The Music of Miles Davis, which features music from a 2015 live gig in Nashville put together by fellow reedman Jeff Coffin. The group is rounded out with Victor Wooten (electric bass), Chester Thompson (drums), Chris Walters (keyboards), and James DaSilva (guitar). You may have noticed something odd. There’s no trumpet player!
This album, nonetheless, does an excellent job of recapturing some of the glory of the original Davis recordings. Excellent soloing on top of some crazy-hard funk rhythms make it an above average effort.
After a brief table-setting talk by Liebman, the group offers a “benediction” in the form of a take of “In a Silent Way” that, understandably, proffers a bit more melancholy than what can be found on the original’s sweeping soundscapes.
Things then get hot pretty quickly as Liebman and Coffin work sinuous lines around the hard avant-funk of the tune “On the Corner.” The relentless drive of the piece features DaSilva squawking wah-wah counterpoint and Walters weaving chordal hints. It’s obvious that these guys not only understand Davis’s music — they still feel the zeitgeist of the original era. The sound of the saxes is eventually pushed through some electronic distortion until a screaming crescendo sets everybody back in the groove.
“Black Satin,” the second tune from On the Corner, supplies an infectious odd-meter vamp. Soprano conversations form the top line with variations below filling the gaps. Responsiveness among the players keeps this cut away from turning into a one-trick tune. Mystery and drama are generated out of subtle shifts in the configuration of the accompaniment.
“Ife,” featured on the Davis album Big Fun and in live performances of the period, adds tenor sax to a slow, bluesy mix while “Mojo” conjures the later part of the post-Bitches Brew period, when the density and intensity of the music was intended to become nearly overwhelming.
The disc concludes with a piece from Miles’ early-’80s comeback. “Jean Pierre” presents the kind of lighter, more playful pop funk that would carry Davis onward for another decade.
There is much to recommend on this disc, including an impressive version of “Interludes” from the rhythm section. Strange as it may seem, the fact that there’s no trumpet player in the band is fitting. After all, Davis had coolly left the stage by the time this ensemble started up. But the musician’s presence is still felt, via the imagination of the listeners, in this fine tribute.