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Electric Miles played the music of Miles Davis at Iridium (pics, review)

Electric Miles performed three dates over the Thanksgiving weekend at Iridium and I attended the final date on Sunday. The band’s name was an implication that they would be performing music from Miles Davis’ electric period, the prime of which was from 1969-1975.  I have always felt this prime period Miles was some of the very best music ever made and it would easily be in my top five on a deserted island selection, so I went into this performance with a strong personal bias.  Let’s not even discuss the bland electric fusion music Miles recorded during his “comeback” from 1981 until the end of his life because it couldn’t even begin to compare.

With this frame of mind, I went with the assumption that there would be mostly, if not all, material played from the ’69-’75 period.  The excellent band consisted of Randy Brecker on electric trumpet, Greg Osby on electric sax, Paul Bollenbach, Steve Cardenas and Shane Theriot all on electric guitars, Lonnie Plaxico on electric bass and Steve Smith on drums. They wasted no time getting to the meat of the matter by kicking off with the epic title track from Bitches Brew which morphed into the fantastic “It’s About Time” and concluded with the last part of Bitches Brew.  They nailed these tracks and while they certainly put their own spin on them they were still fairly faithful renditions of the originals with all the embellishments.

As the set progressed I realized that my preconception about the performance was wrong. They performed “Rubber Band” which is a “lost” Miles Davis track from 1985.  It’s not a particularly great track but its inclusion was curious and interesting. Then things took a very surprising turn.  The band performed old Miles tracks from the late ’50s, “‘Round Midnight” from ‘Round About Midnight (1957) and “All Blues” from the seminal hard bop album Kind of Blue (1959). There can be no denying these tracks are magnificent, but they certainly aren’t “electric Miles”.  The songs were reinterpreted into the electric format which was interesting but, to me, it just didn’t really add much to the tracks and the band would’ve been better off concentrating on the electric material especially since there’s so much to choose from.

That said, the band was stellar. Steve Smith was amazing on drums and propelled the band like a locomotive through all the tracks and locked into grooves with Lonnie Plaxico’s bass that were magnificent.  The guitar interplay was also fantastic.  Weaving, darting and swirling around each other and, at times, in unison to create a very dense and intricate wall of sound.  Greg Osby played some gorgeous riffs on both tenor and soprano and Randy Brecker played in a style about as close to electric period Miles as one could ever want or expect.

After a few magnificent solos, especially Steve Smith’s extended drum solo that was enthralling and held interest at every moment, the band ended the evening with another classic electric Miles piece, “Spanish Key” from Bitches Brew.  This was what it was all about for me — the real classic, electric era and in this regard they delivered the goods majestically.

The band apparently performed the same basic set all three nights but as you can see from the setlist photo there were a few differences.  Apparently, the Cyndi Lauper cover of “Time After Time” that Miles was so infatuated with during his comeback period made an appearance, but I am glad it wasn’t done on Sunday evening.  I would love to see this group continue their explorations of electric Miles but concentrate solely on the prime period and incorporate tracks from Theme From Jack Johnson, On The Corner, Big Fun and Get Up With It.  Maybe next time.

photos and review by Greg Cristman

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