Miles Ahead & Audio Companion Pieces Reaffirm Jazz Icon’s Influence (DVD REVIEW)

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Because he so artfully interweaves literal storytelling with provocative movie-making, Don Cheadle deserves an Academy Award for Miles Ahead. Both the conception and execution of this homage to the late Miles Davis are also reflected in the companion musical pieces released to coincide with the icon of jazz.

The original motion picture soundtrack functions on more levels that such titles usually do. That’s because there is music playing virtually throughout this film centered on The Man with The Horn’s mysterious five-year hiatus during the Seventies. The two dozen tracks on the album contain  snippets of dialogue from the movie itself, but, much more importantly, an array of selections from Miles’ extensive discography including his groundbreaking work on Prestige Records (from whence comes the film’s title), his collaborations with Gil Evens on Seven Steps to Heaven and the various bands he led during the creation of his electric music circa Bitches Brews and beyond.

Cheadle’s supervision thus creates an audio counterpart to the film: just as the movie touches upon significant points of reference in Mile’s life (admiration for boxer Jack Johnson, his arrest outside the New York club Birdland where he was playing with his band), this disc can function as a launchpad for anyone who wants to delve further into the art (and life) of this great musician. In a variety of ways, Miles Ahead references almost every step in Davis’ extended series of groundbreaking work going back to 1949’s The Birth of the Cool as well as his post hiatus creations, including, most crucially,  one of his later releases on the Columbia label, On the Corner. While the album provoked more than a little ire upon its release in 1972, its combination of electronics and rhythm fashioned a foundation for the forms and functions of today’s R & B and hip-hop.

In its own way, then, Robert Glasper’s reinvention of those styles stands as the basis for Everything’s Beautiful. Just a cursory listen reminds not only how Davis’ own influence continues decades after some of the recordings referenced here, but also posits the implicit theory that, were he alive today and at a similar stage in life as depicted in Miles Ahead, Davis might well be making music like that which is contained on this collection of originals and tunes built upon the trumpeter’s own numbers.

By enlisting the participation of such venerable notables as Stevie Wonder (“Right On Brotha”) and guitarist John Scofield (who was a member of Miles’ band for a time in the Eighties), plus members of the younger, forward-thinking generation of which he is a member, such as Eryka Badu (“Maiysha (So Long)”) and Ledisi (“I’m Leaving You”), Glasper spearheaded a project that stands on its own, even as it remains of a piece with its roots as well as its cinematic source. The eye-catching colorful cover graphics that adorn Everything’s Beautiful are a metaphor for that stylistic integration, just as vividly as photos of Don Cheadle with the graphics of the soundtrack suggest the uncanny means by which he captured the magnetic, iconoclastic personality of Miles Davis.


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