Miles From India in Montreal Live
(Submitted by Walter Kolosky but written by Bill Milkowski).
Back in 2006, producer Bob Belden had the inspired notion of gathering several Miles Davis alumni together with Indian musicians who were equally adept at classical and jazz for an ambitious re-imagining of material from such Miles Davis landmarks as In A Silent Way, Bitches Brew, Get Up With It and On The Corner. With Yusuf Gandhi, head of Times Square/Four Quarters and a conduit to several professional musicians in India, Belden traveled to Mumbai, India in November, 2006 for the initial recordings with a battery of Indian percussionists along with keyboardist/musical director Louiz Banks. The all-star cast of Miles alumni – saxophonists Dave Liebman and Gary Bartz, guitarists Pete Cosey, John McLaughlin and Mike Stern, bassist Michael Henderson and Ron Carter, drummers Jimmy Cobb, Lenny White and Vince Wilburn, keyboardists Adam Holzman and Robert Irving III – would add their parts later back in New York City. The resulting concept album, Miles From India, contained bracing, Indian flavored treatments of tunes like “Spanish Key,” “It’s About That Time” and “Miles Runs The Voodoo Down” as well as stirring Carnatic inspired interpretations of Miles classics like “All Blues,” “So What” and “Blue In Green.” To my ears, it was one of the most provocative and exhilarating recordings of 2008, and was later nominated for a Grammy Award.
By May, 2008, Belden and Gandhi brought all the musicians from the Indian subcontinent together with the New York contingent for their premiere performance at Town Hall in New York City. Belden provided the introductions for that eagerly anticipated gala which included guitarist Cosey, saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, violinist Kala Ramnath, sitarist Ravi Chary, drummer Gino Banks, keyboardist Louiz Banks, trumpeter Wallace Roney, drummers White and Wilburn, bassist Carter and Benny Reitveld and tabla player Badal Roy (who had appeared on Miles’ provocative 1972 offering, On The Corner). There was a follow-up performance in San Francisco, but then Belden was gone, effectively removed from the very project that he had helped conceptualize and realize.
So it was with some feelings of apprehension and guilt (knowing Belden as well as I do) that I attended a recent weeklong engagement of Miles From India at the Iridium nightclub in midtown Manhattan. Belden had been squeezed out of the picture by then, but a majority of the original cast was still intact. There was Lenny White and Vince Wilburn holding down the groove alongside electric bassist (and former Weather Reporter) Victor Bailey. In a far corner of the cramped Iridium stage, Pete Cosey was flaming out on electric guitar while Rudresh Mahanthappa blew white-hot alto sax on the frontline alongside Badal Roy and the incredible Indian flutist-vocalist V.K. Raman and sitarist Hidayat Khan. Keyboardist Jeff Beasley acted as musical director while Tim Hagans provided the all-important Miles factor with potent, echo-soaked trumpet lines.
A couple of weeks later, at the Montreal Jazz Festival, an expanded edition of that lineup appeared in a gala performance at spacious 1450-seat Theatre Maisonneuve. Again, no Belden in sight. But the regular lineup was augmented by former Miles sidemen Bill Evans on soprano sax and Darryl Jones on bass, Remember Shakti bandmates U. Shrinivas on electric mandolin and Selva Ganesh on khanjira, second keyboardist Robert Irving, III, and third drummer Ndugu Chancler. Trumpeter Nicholas Payton replaced Tim Hagans on this Montreal gig and received wild ovations for both his haunting, Miles-like muted playing and his more searing high-note trumpet work. Unfortunately, Pete Cosey didn’t make the trip and his presence was sadly missed, underscoring the importance of guitar in the electric Miles formula. But in spite of the lack of any six-string heroics from this edition of Miles From India, it enthralled the packed audience and ranked as one of the highlights (along with Stevie Wonder’s free outdoor concert that drew 150,000 people in the streets of downtown Montreal) at the 30th annual Montreal Jazz Festival.
As far as Belden’s non-involvement in a project that he visualized from the outset and saw through to its inception, he had this to say in a recent email to me: “To say I am getting ripped off is, to say the least, obvious. But this is so common when you are the one who comes up with the ideas. My name was on the cover of the CD, I produced and arranged the music and yet in the entire process, I had not one conversation directly with anyone from the Montreal Jazz Festival. It was all filtered by the record company. This is not professional to say the least.”
He adds, “All of my problems with the company began after Miles From India did not win the Grammy. I was punished from that day on by not getting any money for my work. If they wanted me at the gig they would have hired me. In the end, I guess my contributions were not important to the group nor to the jazz festival.”
Bill Milkowski has been a preeminent music writer for many years. Much of his work stands as a history of fusion. His writing has appeared in every music magazine of note and he has authored the acclaimed books Jazzbos & Visionaries and Jaco: The Extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius.