“Electric Miles” celebrates the music of the early electric period of Miles Davis with big band arrangements of classics from “Bitches Brew”, “On the Corner”, “Jack Johnson” and “In a Silent Way”. Trumpeters Tim Hagans and Clay Jenkins are featured as the “Miles” voice with Dave Liebman appearing on “Black Satin” and “Yesternow”. Also featuring trombonist Michael Davis, Pillow on alto sax/alto flute; the band is powered by the rhythm section of drummer Jared Schonig and bassist Chuck Bergeron. This band is full of NYC seasoned pros and peppered with up and coming musicians.
Conducted and Arranged by Charles Pillow
Charles Pillow comes from Baton Rouge, LA. After college at Loyola University, he pursued his Masters Degree in Jazz Studies at the prestigious Eastman School of Music, in Rochester, NY. Since moving to NYC in 1987, he has appeared on over 100 recordings of jazz, pop luminaries such as Frank Sinatra, Mariah Carey, Jay Z,Luther Vandross, Paul Simon, Michael Brecker, Bruce Springsteen, John Scofield, Tom Harrell, Dave Liebman, David Sanborn, to name a few.
In addition to an active performing and recording schedule, he is an Assistant Professor of Jazz Saxophone at the Eastman school of Music.
Charles Pillow, arranger, alto sax, soprano sax. flute, alto flute/ Colin Gordon, alto sax, soprano sax, flute / Luke Norris, tenor sax, clarinet/ CJ Ziarniak, tenor sax, / Karl Stabnau, bass clarinet • Michael Davis, trombone/ Abe Nouri, trombone/ Jack Courtright, trombone/ Gabe Ramos, bass trombone • Tony Kadleck lead trumpet/ Charlie Carr, trumpet/ Clay Jenkins, trumpet / Tim Hagans, trumpet
Julian Garvue, electric piano / Chuck Bergeron, electric bass/ Mike Forfia, acoustic bass on “Sanctuary”, “In a Silent Way”/ Jared Schonig, drums • Special Guest: David Liebman, soprano sax
Charles Pillow Large Ensemble – Electric Miles – MAMA, MAA 1055, 61:15 [6/22/18] ****:
Putting Miles Davis’ music into a sizable ensemble jazz setting is not a new idea. Arranger Charles Pillow, however, decided to take material from Davis’ early electric period (1969-1972) and recast eight tunes into large band arrangements. The result is the hour-long Electric Miles, which utilizes 18 musicians to bring to life compositions from Davis albums such as 1969’s In a Silent Way, 1970’s Bitches Brew, 1971’s Jack Johnson and 1972’s On the Corner. Pillow is no stranger to interpreting other composers or artists via a large jazz assemblage. In 2005 he released Pictures at an Exhibition, where Pillow re-imagined Mussorgsky’s classic orchestral work and reorganized it for a jazz group. In 2010 he offered the chamber jazz outing, Van Gogh Letters, an original tone poem based on letters between Vincent van Gogh and his brother. Pillow may not be as recognized as fellow big band jazz arrangers such as Maria Schneider or Michael Gibbs, but he’s doing some fine efforts and Electric Miles is must-hear for large group jazz fans.
Pillow begins with a nine-minute version of Joe Zawinul’s “Pharaoh’s Dance,” which opened Bitches Brew. Pillow’s arrangement reduces the piece’s irregular details but does not lose any of the original’s potency or specifics. Highlights include solos from trumpeter Tim Hagans (who has worked with Schneider and Bob Belden) and Pillow on alto sax. The fusion edge is sustained by Julian Garvue’s electric piano and Chuck Bergeron’s grooving electric bass. And then it’s on to the eight-minute title track of Bitches Brew, which again features improvisational spotlights for Hagans (who has a clearly defined, Davis-like tone) and Pillow (again on alto sax). The original had a distinct darkness. Pillow keeps some of that dim ambiance, but the massed horns also deliver a brighter facet which acts as a balance to the shaded portions. Pillow also dispenses with any studio effects or other electronic aspects which permeated Davis’ original. The only composition from In a Silent Way is the title track, also penned by Zawinul. While Davis’ famed arrangement had an atmospheric tonality, Pillow heads into a different, opposite direction and provides an engaging adaptation with an upbeat and upfront approach which supplies space for Hagans to soar above the rhythm section and the other horns. “In a Silent Way” also has a short but memorable drums/percussion interlude.
Liebman is heard on two cuts. First, he’s on the funky, groove-gesticulated “Black Satin,” from On the Corner, an LP which Liebman played on. The eight-minute rendition of “Black Satin” has a comprehensive arrangement which moves in several ways without ever losing the groove foundation. Liebman solos on soprano sax and there are other noteworthy solos from trumpeter Clay Jenkins and trombonist Michael Davis. Liebman also contributes to a 9:27 translation of “Yesternow,” a tune which emanates from the Jack Johnson sessions. Liebman was not a member of the Jack Johnson studio crew so it is interesting to hear him solo and be a part of this somewhat moody number. Other limelight moments come from Pillow (who switches to alto flute) and Jenkins.
Pillow also includes music performed on stage during the 1968-1972 period which Davis did not necessarily use on studio dates. Zawinul’s soul/funk groover “Directions” was employed by Davis as a live staple. The 7:35 “Directions” may not be as well-known as other tunes in Davis’ repertoire, but this high-jumping cut is a definite stand-out on Electric Miles, with stimulated solos from Hagans, Davis and tenor saxophonist Luke Norris. Pillow concludes with another one from Bitches Brew, the strong “Spanish Key,” which focuses on the large ensemble’s communal togetherness but leaves space for Jenkins’ lofty trumpet improvising and more of Pillow’s alto sax expertise. Electric Miles may not be replete with the electricity that the CD’s title suggests but it does achieve and accomplish two things: it is a new and exultant Davis tribute and it presents a fresh and enjoyable examination of Davis’ fusion material.
“Over his long and varied career, Miles Davis recorded several seminal jazz orchestra albums in collaboration with the great arranger Gil Evans. Those disciplined affairs (“Sketches of Spain” and others) were in stark contrast to Miles’s wild, improvised, “electric” period that produced records like “Bitches Brew.” Charles Pillow Large Ensemble’s “Electric Miles” brilliantly fuses these two aspects of Miles’s oeuvre with gorgeous big band arrangements of tunes from “Bitches Brew,” “Jack Johnson,” and “In a Silent Way.”
Featured soloists Tim Hagans and Clay Jenkins ably take on Miles’s role on trumpet while Pillow takes flight on alto sax and alto flute. Dave Liebman, who participated in the original sessions a half-century ago, contributes soaring soprano sax solos on “Yesternow” and “Black Satin.” All of the soloists, including Michael Davis (trombone) and Luke Norris (tenor sax), are outstanding, but the stars here are Pillow’s arrangements, with beautiful voicings on more subtle tunes like “Sanctuary” and a powerful punch on compositions like “Pharaoh’s Dance.”
-Ron Netsky, Rochester City Newspaper
REVIEW from RADIO:
Back in the day, Davis devotees were split on their opinions of his new direction. Some pined for his first great quintet (with John Coltrane), others were just digging into his second quintet (Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams), and most were trying to figure out what to make of his introduction of electric instruments with In A Silent Way (Columbia, 1969). Certainly Bitches Brew, and Miles’ exploration of jazz/rock with Jack Johnson(Columbia, 1971) and On The Corner (Columbia, 1972) caused teeth gnashing for some post-bop heads, but he also created a new audience of folks who were checking out Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone.
This artist/arranger has chosen established jazz composers of iconic stature to interpret. He embraces the songs of Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter and Miles Davis as vehicles for his Charles Pillow Large Ensemble. This is the fiftieth anniversary of Miles Davis’ celebrated fusion jazz recording of “Bitches Brew.” Can you believe fifty years has passed? It was 1969 and Miles was experimenting with a new sound. The fusion generation was just beginning to take root. The old-school jazz cats were furious with this new wave of music. I remember many were disappointed in Miles for stepping outside the acceptable jazz mold of the fifties and early sixties. It’s nice to have David Liebman as a special guest on this recording, because Liebman recorded with miles on the original 1972 release of the “On the Corner” project. He is the soprano sax soloist featured on “Black Satin.” Clay Jenkins is the featured trumpeter and Michael Davis sings his song on Trombone. Jaren Schonig stands out on drums, driving the ensemble like a sixteen-wheeler at full throttle. There’s nothing silent about Schonig’s drums on “In A Silent Way.” I like the way Pillow arranged this song to move from a mellow, ballad into a strong funk tune. The horns play sweetly in the background, while Clay Jenkins soars on trumpet and Schonig stretches out on an impressive, percussive solo, while holding the double-time rhythm tightly in place during the entire production. This may be my favorite arrangement on this CD.
On the tune, “Directions”, written by Zawinul, Tim Hagans is featured on trumpet and it’s another red-hot arrangement. Luke Norris performs an admirable tenor solo. I enjoyed the strong bass line that pulsates and helps hold the rhythm section in place. Kudos to bassist, Chuck Bergeron. The Miles Davis composition, “Yesternow” is beautifully celebrated with Charles Pillow playing a sensuous and emotional alto flute on this arrangement. Dave Liebman is once again featured on soprano saxophone. The introduction snatches the listener’s attention with Pillow’s unusual arrangement using a short, half-bar horn ensemble to harmoniously punch a few startling chords. The bassist comes next, setting the time and groove solo. Now that my attention is peeked, the ballad unfolds in a lovely way. But the drums never let the tune get boring. They keep the funk solid and in-your-face, even on this slow tempo. It’s impressive to hear a large ensemble and a gifted arranger tackle fusion and modern jazz with a big band sensibility and still keep the funk alive and powerful.
Charles Pillow has synopsized an important era for jazz using his seventeen-piece band to execute arrangements from the best of fusion and recording eight tunes written by historic composers. Born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Pillow attended Loyola University and received his Master’s Degree in Jazz Studies at the prestigious Eastman School of Music. After moving to New York City, he honed his musical skills playing with a number of well-respected artisans including Frank Sinatra, Luther Vandross, Paul Simon, Michael Brecker, Mariah Carey, Jay Z, Bruce Springsteen and David Sanborn to name only a few. Currently he is an Assistant Professor of Jazz Saxophone at the Eastman School of Music.
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