A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

A Miles Davis alumni band led by bassist Marcus Miller, with Herbie Hancock on piano and synthesizers and Wayne Shorter on soprano and tenor saxophones, brought their first-hand knowledge and experience to Walt Disney Concert Hall on April 26 in an extraordinary, fresh portrayal of this visionary music.  Phenomenal energy and virtuosity from drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and trumpeter Sean Jones brought brilliance to the quintet’s sound.

The inspiration of the musicians was to portray a vision of Miles Davis’ dreams.  Miller told us that Miles would never look back, so the group decided to create his dream of the future using loosely organized themes taken from throughout Davis’ career.  The tunes were sequential, but not tied to an historic timeline, and included dreamy swatches of familiar Davis repertoire magically spun from a collective improvisation.

Jones could be the next-generation Miles Davis.  His technique was like nothing I have ever heard — the range, the intensity, the control of his instrument, even on the most iconoclastic statements.  His boasts, his whimpers, his pointillist accents expressed an emphatic simpatico.  “Directions” rocked.  Jones’ searing energy and incredible technique created sounds that require superhuman skills.  His expressionist displays appeared effortless.  He has a special talent, and throughout the night I was mesmerized by his ability and the pure affect he portrayed.

Colaiuta was fascinating to watch.  His energy was boundless, and the ever-varying array of percussive nuance was extraordinary.  He would move from stick, to mallet, to his bare hands in a matter of beats, and he could also be deliberate and strong with tight, precise, focused timing.  His synchrony to the soloist was deeply perceptual, sometimes uncanny.

Miller was the leader of the project, and usually set the tempos and grooves from his bass.  The treatment of Miles’ 1956 “Walkin’” made a great application of the performance philosophy — a dream of Miles looking forward.  With “Footprints,” he and Hancock turned over some nice moments together.  The bass was a whole-body experience; Miller was silky-smooth in his technique and as light on his feet as a dancer.  “In a Silent Way” wound down with Miller playing an extended solo on bass clarinet.  He was quite expressive, and his rubato solo over (under) Hancock’s synthesizer was an unexpected twist.  “Dr. Jackle” featured Colaiuta’s popping tempo, and Miller flaming on his upright acoustic.

Shorter’s tenor saxophone on “All Blues” was especially nice, and just watching him perform was a treat.  His playing was very deliberate as his contributions seamlessly flowed between ensemble, solo and duo.  He could still flash the technique we all know, although more carefully placed, and with an intentionality that was piercing.  His soprano saxophone style was similar, only the urgency was even more noticeable, especially in the high pitch range.   Something in the sound touched you; it focused your attention, almost unexpectedly.   “Someday My Prince Will Come” began with Shorter whistling the familiar theme, and contained some his finest moments of the evening.  This iconic tune, presented in this fashion, in Walt Disney Concert Hall, was really satisfying — just the idea.

Hancock spent much of his time on the grand piano, providing the elegance and sophistication of a language more harmonic.   Even his continuo was totally engaging.  Such mastery of harmony and its movement, coupled with his solo virtuosity, was wonderful to hear.  The synthesizer produced some memorable effects, even using some speech sounds in the mix.  For the encore, Hancock grabbed his keyboard-guitar synthesizer and soloed from front stage.

Bravo on an inspired performance!  A special memory.

~Theodore Bell/Culture Spot LA