Artist: Miles Davis and Robert Glasper
Album: Everything’s Beautiful
Label: Columbia/Blue Note/Legacy
Release Date: 05/27/2016
This is some new turf for this writer and probably many of our readers too. Of course, we’ve listened to Miles Davis in his many incarnations from be-bop to hip-hop, but this recording is unlike anything Miles. Initially, I thought perhaps this would be a reconstruction/remix effort in the vein of Bill Laswell’s electronic Miles period of 1969-1974 Panthalassa. Some of those elements are here, but these 11 tracks are shorter, more varied, and global in scope; all adding to a broad and deep soundscape. This recording was released the day after Miles 90th birthday and in conjunction with Miles Ahead, the movie and soundtrack involving Don Cheadle and this same Robert Glasper, who scored much of the movie’s soundtrack. But, this is a very different project than that one.
Here Glasper blends a diverse group of Miles master takes and outtakes from his vast Columbia catalog and employs an impressive coterie of contemporary artists to create original interpretations. Here’s what Glasper says, “I didn’t want to do just a remix record. My idea was to show how Miles inspired people to make new art. Miles didn’t have one audience… I’m documenting who I am now, where music is now. That’s what this project is about. I wanted to do something where we can take some of Miles’ ideas, shake them up, and try to show the influence of Miles and make new things…..The whole project is based on Miles, but it is based on Miles’ vision, it’s based on Miles’ trumpet, it’s based on Miles’ voice, it’s based on Miles’ composition, it’s based on Miles’ influence, it’s based on Miles’ swag.”
Glasper has built his own career with a fusion of jazz, R&B, and hip-hop so for him this is more familiar territory. His 2013 album, Black Radio, won the Grammy for Best R&B Album and featured collaborations with Eryka Badu and Ledisi, two of the artists featured here. Also joining this project are R&B artists Bilal and KING as well as British soul singer-songwriter Laura Mvula, Hip-hop producer Rashad Smith; Grammy-nominated Australian neo-soul quartet Hiatus Kiyote, rapper/singer Phonte, rapper/producer Illa J., jazz guitarist and Miles alumnus John Scofield, and the iconic Stevie Wonder. If you’re like me and recognize only a few of those names, Glasper helps out considerably with a brief synopsis of each artist in the detailed liners.
It’s amazing how fluid the album is given the diversity of the artists and forms of rap and hip-hop which are often anything but smooth. Rapper Phonte, for example, takes Miles’ theme of blues and green into “Violets” with a Miles type of street-like attitude across a soft rhythmic R&B backdrop. “Little Church” and “Silence Is the Way” use voice with familiar Miles jazz-fusion riffs. The classic “Milestones” is re-imagined similarly. Stevie Wonder begins his harmonica solo on “Right on Brotha” with the theme from “Nefertiti” and later in the track there’s a sample of Miles’ own “Right Off.” In “I’m Leaving You” there’s a clip of Miles saying “wait a minute.” These little touches add up to a remarkably creative sound palette. Miles was daring and multi-dimensional. Glasper captures that in his masterful vision.
– Jim Hynes