By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
The matters under discussion compel us yet again, embarrassing though it may be, to bend the knee before the sepulcher of Miles Davis, who was fusing and cutting up before Molvaer or Osby saw Spot run, and whose Bitches Brew (1970, to be reissued in November with 170 minutes of unreleased material), Aura (recorded with Danish trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg in 1985) and underrated Doo-Bop (with Easy Mo Bee, 1991) remain templates for all this concatenation. But it's significant that when the World Saxophone Quartet genuflect, they do so with spray paint at the ready to scrawl Miles' name backward on the tombstone.
Selim Sivad: A Tribute to Miles Davis is both a departure and a tradition for the WSQ. The quartet (Hamiet Bluiett, David Murray, Oliver Lake and, on this occasion, John Purcell) have rarely recorded with drums, an exception being the fine Metamorphosis, which they laid down with African percussion in 1990. Once again, now with a Miles link through drummer Jack DeJohnette, the kick of African skins promotes high energy. Once again, the WSQ indulge an urge to reconsider an icon. (Past subjects include Duke Ellington and '60s R&B.) And you can tell from the first cut - a tumbling, joyful take on the appropriate "Seven Steps to Heaven" - that they're having a blast.
It's almost as if they were mocking the idea: You mean Miles has been dead seven years, and we're the only ones who haven't done a tribute? A glance at the titles reveals no fewer than three titles from Davis' well-worn Kind of Blue - choices that appear exceptionally lazy until you start to see what the World Sax guys are getting at: Miles has been tapped too often for imitation, too little for inspiration, and they mean to demonstrate that there's no reason to paint images of his perennial fruits when you can squeeze 'em.
"Freddie Freeloader" - oh yeah, how many musicians have freeloaded on Miles' tab? But look what you can do with this easy stroller: big ol' dance beat; African roots acknowledged via thumb piano; blaring, honking horns all over the place. "All Blues"? No quiet meditation, Bluiett's arrangement is all blues, son: Flip the accents around, rev up the percussion and rollick it on out. "Blue in Green" isn't just a melancholy ballad anymore: Purcell's conception, with DeJohnette on piano, gives it passion, rising higher and higher to a coarse, gorgeous yearn of dense harmony. This is the territory where the men of WSQ excel, and where they show their admiration for Davis' most hard-headed work; in the same vein, the static dissonance of "Selim" (originally heard on 1970's Live-Evil), with its waterfall percussion, is the album's best track.
A tribute? No, Selim Sivad is more of a raucous New Orleans wake. Bring Finnegan.
Hamiet Bluiett's trio plays the Jazz Bakery, Wednesday-Saturday, September 2-5.