From the subtly reexamined to the near-total makeover, here are 5* of the more interesting Miles Davis covers out there...
*NOTE: I could just as easily have included Jazz Jamaica’s and Conrad Herwig's versions of ‘So What’ or Shirley Horn’s and Doug Carn's ‘Blue In Green’. All quality.
Charles Earland – Milestones (1970, Prestige)
LP Title: Charles Earland/Living Black
Charles Earland (organ), Gary Chandler (trumpet), Grover Washington Jr. (tenor saxophone), Maynard Parker (guitar), Jesse Kilpatrick (drums), Buddy Caldwell (congas)
Inspired, peak-level Earland and far stronger than his lauded ‘Black Talk’. The electricity at the Key Club really cuts through on ‘Living Black’ and never more so than on ‘Milestones’, the record’s final track. Earland and the band tear into it, throwing more music into 4 and a half minutes than ought to be possible.
Eddie Jefferson - Bitches Brew (1974, Muse Records)
LP Title: Eddie Jefferson/Things Are Getting Better
Eddie Jefferson(vocal), Joe Newman(trumpet), Billy Mitchell(tenor sax, flute, bass clarinet),Mickey Tucker(piano, electric piano, organ, saw), Sam Jones(bass), Eddie Gladden(drums)
Eddie Jefferson had already recorded lyrics to Miles Davis’ ‘So What’ 6 years before this, but takes the trick to another place with ‘Bitches Brew’. It starts off as a genuinely frightening coven-like chant and then settles into a sort of darker Leon Thomas vibe.
Writing lyrics to fit jazz solos/arrangements must be hard enough at the best of times. Writing lyrics to Bitches Brew is probably slightly harder than writing lyrics to a defective doorbell convention.
Sly and Robbie – Black Satin (1985, 4th & Broadway Records)
Futureshock-alike (also produced by Bill Laswell). This sound dated badly by the end of the 90’s, but is somehow more appealing today. It’s still a little too Miami Vice to be taken all that seriously, but it’s a grower. Clever use of wind instruments on the main riff.
Steve Turre – All Blues (1995 & 2001, Antilles)
LP Title: Steve Turre/Rhythm Within & Live Concert: Chivas Jazz Fest (2001)
Steve Turre (tromb/shells) Javon Jackson(tenor sax), George Cables (piano), Buster Wiliams (bass), Vic Lewis (drums)
Trombonist and pioneering conch-shellist, Turre has played with near enough everyone of distinction since the 1960’s. He started with Roland Kirk, and has since played with Art Blakey’s Messengers, Ray Charles, McCoy Tyner, Carlos Santana, Woody Shaw…..
Turre's reworking of this Miles' 'All Blues' was originally recorded on 'Rhythm Within', one of Turre’s best sets. His conch shell-heavy (he gets five other band members to play shells) turn is such an original take on the tune that it recalls what Miles himself did with Jimi Hendrix’ ‘The Wind Cries Mary’ on ‘Mademoiselle Mabry’.
A live rendition, performed 6 years later at the Chivas Jazz Festival, is if anything, even more astounding.
Cassandra Wilson-Runs the Voodoo Down (1999, Blue Note)
LP Title: Cassandra Wilson/ Travelin’ Miles
Cassandra Wilson (vocals) Eric Lewis (piano) Dave Holland (bass) Marcus Baylor (drums, percussion) Mino Cinelu (percussion)
Cassandra Wilson is a talent, and doesn’t really need killer rhythm sections to sound good, but if Dave Holland fancies dropping a bassline over some muted-Miles samples, then she’s going to sound great.
That said, messing with Miles is always a brave call and Cassandra Wilson wasn’t afraid to sand the edges off the ‘Bitches Brew’ original. She emphasizes the funkier fragments of the piece and plays it all at quicker tempo, demonstrating the versatility of Miles’ writing far more effectively than most conventional jazz ‘reinterpretations’.