"Talk about an embarrassment of riches. Percussion giant Billy Cobham on triangle
for goodness sake. One of Miles Davis’s great achievements was his assemblage of
talent, and the inspiration he provided for a collective exploration of new harmonic,
melodic and tonal dimensions.
The Davis recordings here are from the late-60s, early-70s, perhaps his most
experimental period. He’d already given birth to the Cool and was eager to twiddle
the thermostat with future Weather Reporters Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul. Compositions
by Miles himself and both these collaborators are featured here, with Shorter’s
Vonetta, luminous with the colours of Davis’s sustained lines,
Shorter’s own ultra-smooth sax and the delicate piano of Herbie Hancock, the most
Davis as an artist is an apropos source for a film of Kunstlerroman ilk. Constantly
restless in his endeavour to satisfy his muses, he developed a personal playing style that
was as laconic as his ideas were expansive. That inimitable muted trumpet articulated
Spartan phrases with the same ruthless purging of superfluousness found in Hemingway, yet
a melodic and harmonic sensibility encompassed the soul of Joyce, Proust and Woolf; a
stream of consciousness recorded for posterity.
Miles, however, was never a match for Ornette Coleman in sheer passionate intensity.
Coleman threw away the traditional harmony guide, but was able to interweave melodic lines
seamless in their logic. In some ways Happy House is the antithesis to
Davis. Hot, urgent and pungently spirited. Demanding an attention that we are only too
willing to give.
Less vigorous, but more contemporary and contemplative are two tracks by guitarist Bill
Frisell. Both Beautiful E. – featuring the beautifully bowed cello of Hank Roberts
– and Frisell’s whimsical interpretation of Over The Rainbow are wonderfully
sculptured from his shimmering tone.
Over The Rainbow also makes an appearance on this disc in an altogether different
guise. Hawaiian singer Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, a huge man with a honeyed voice,
accompanied only by a reggae ukulele accent, segues the Wizard of Oz classic with
Wonderful World in a spellbinding performance.
Sadly, Kamakawiwo’ole suffered from weight-related ill-health, and died in 1997,
aged only 38. But this 1993 recording captures his legacy: a voice in a
million. Infinitely rich and resonant; but with a pure, innocent quality; an
elasticity facilitating the skipping of octaves and playful phrasing; and a warmth that
melts troubles like lemon drops. Utterly enchanting, I have rarely heard such agreeable
sentiments interpreted with such easy charm.
This is a soundtrack for all those tempted by the rainbow, by the treasures at the far
reaches of the musical spectrum. Miles, Coleman and Co. searched in harmonic complexity,
and Kamakawiwo’ole in delightful simplicity. Each uncovered enough gold to enrich us
all, while keeping us eternally greedy for more."
Published March 29, 2001