Miles Davis (ft. Ledisi)
Rubberband of Life
The track, Rubberband of Life, is available via:
Rhino Entertainment Company
The album, Rubberband, will be released on 6th September. Pre-order the album here:
IT is not often that I get to look at…
a Jazz artist - no less an icon who has helped redefine and revolutionise the genre. Before I talk more about Miles Davis and why this posthumous project is exciting, it is worth talking about a few other subjects. I wanted to look at Jazz in general and how, for years, it has been a maligned genre – and one that is coming back and has plenty of potential. I also wanted to address posthumous releases in general and an artist’s life after they have departed; a general look at broader music tastes and widening horizons; a sense of where Jazz can go in years from now and music that contrasts the mainstream with something much more satisfying and rich – I will look at ahead to the Miles Davis album, Rubberband, and what it might contain. It is worth looking at Jazz legends and how they have inspired the genre but, right now, let’s investigate Jazz. I do think many of us get into our heads this impression of Jazz that is quite old and limited. I have raised this subject when reviewing Jazz in the past but I think we all associate the genre with something quite stuffy, dry and long-winded. Rather than the exciting and varied style we have today, many still link Jazz with noodling, a certain impression and something they will not like. To be fair, there are still some corners of the Jazz world where improvisation rules and it can be quite hard to digest. Other Jazz artists tend to be quite plain and do not really allow much imagination to come out. For the most part, Jazz today is broadening and there are some terrific artists emerging. In Britain, there are some fantastic Jazz players coming out of London and, when you think about how Jazz is integrated into other styles of music, one can appreciate the genre in some form or other. I think the likes of Miles Davis represent an old order that, whilst inspiring, are part of the past.
The newly-charged and evolved Jazz we hear now is a different beast altogether. I am not a huge fan of Jazz that goes off on tangents and consists of wild freestyling but, if you look hard enough, there are plenty of options. It is a shame that, to many, Jazz is this limited genre that is for the outsiders and cannot integrate into the mainstream. Maybe people feel that, like Classical, Jazz is vocal-less and not something that is easy to get to grips with. True, a lot of Jazz is instrumental but there are Jazz artists who have singers and, with modern artists like Kamasi Washington mixing instrumentals with singer-fronted pieces, Jazz is a lot more eclectic than you’d think. I love how Jazz has changed and always had time for the genre. I do like the more composed and calm pieces that are pretty easy to appreciate but I like how artists such as Miles Davis took Jazz in new directions with longer, more psychedelic experimentations. There are modern Jazz artists who are mixing in other styles like Pop and Hip-Hop; some that are merging cooler Jazz with something more fired and exciting. I do not think we can easily define any genre but Jazz always gets this bad reputation. It is hard to convert everyone to Jazz but have a listen to what is coming out now and you will love something, that is for sure. Consider Sons of Kemet and The Comet Is Coming, They are splicing together different genres and providing this very tangible-yet-oblique music that paints pictures without words. It is Jazz that thrills the blood and hooks you but, rather than rely too much on traditional Jazz instruments, there is a fusion of genres. One might say that modern Jazz, then, is not that pure and is having to assimilate other styles of music to become credible. I think there is some truth in this but, like every genre, Jazz has developed and changed through the years. At the core, there is still this very traditional sound but, with so many different kinds of music available to the world, it is only natural that modern Jazz artists would sprinkle that into the pot.
I am going to be talking about Amy Winehouse later and, when considering her, there are all sorts of plans regarding her material and touring – despite the fact that she has been dead for years. It is understandable fans want to hear more material from artists after they have departed but where do you draw the line? In the case of Winehouse, there has been posthumous material released and there are plans for her to go on tour – in the form of a hologram. It is a bit ghoulish and weird considering that and I do think there needs to be lines drawn. Prince is another artist who has been gone for years but there is new stuff coming out regularly. In his case, there is this archive of material he recorded that will satisfy fans for many years to come. Some say there is almost a century’s worth of music that is available. That is quite an impressive haul but you have to ask how much is going to be relevant and whether you release everything or stop at some point. It is the case with any big artist that has gone. Do you mine every inch of their archives to see what can be sold or do you simply accept that, now that they have gone, that is the end of their recording life? It is a hard balance and situation but I do feel like only the most worthy and quality-driven material should be released. In the case of Miles Davis, Rubberband of Life has already been put out into the world but it is a first taster of what is to come; an album called Rubberband that he started recording back in 1985. Here, Pitchfork explain the situation:
“In 1985, Miles Davis began recording an album called Rubberband, which was set to be his first album for Warner Bros. Records following his departure from longtime label Columbia. That record was ultimately shelved; his first album for Warner would be 1986’s Tutu. Last year saw the title track to Davis’ album, “Rubberband,” released on an EP of the same name.
Today, it’s been announced that Rubberband will now be released in its entirety, completed by the original producers—Randy Hall and Zane Giles—alongside Davis’ nephew, Vince Wilburn, Jr., who performed on the original album sessions. It arrives September 6 via Rhino. Find a tracklist below.
Featured on the album are Lalah Hathaway and the R&B/jazz singer Ledisi, who guests on an alternate version of the title track, “Rubberband of Life,” which appeared on last year’s EP. Find that below as well. In April, it was announced that Davis’ full recordingsfrom his sessions around Birth of the Cool would be coming to vinyl”.
It is great that we have this new release coming because I don’t think Davis is one of those artists who has a lot of scrappy stuff lying around that could be released just to cash in. Maybe I am wrong but, with some deceased artists, there are half-baked songs and demos that estates put out just because it is there. It can somewhat distil the legacy of an artist and is a shame to see. I can appreciate why people want to keep an artist alive but there has to be this point where you have to weight things up and consider whether the unfinished material is really worth putting out. Mile Davis always intended this full album and, for various reasons, it is only seeing the light of day now. It is interesting that we get to hear contemporary singers front Miles Davis songs. In his lifetime, he released few albums where there were singers on. For the most part, his music was instrumental so it is quite refreshing seeing these arrangements with singers on. Rubberband is the realisation of Davis’ work from the 1980s but it has that modern twist to it. With Ledisi scoring the current single from the album, there is that mixture of generations and, as I explained before, Jazz and other genres melting together – in the case of Rubberband of Life, there is some Soul and R&B in the mix.
One cannot listen to artists like Miles Davis, Sons of Kemet and Jazz artists such as Nilüfer Yanya and say that there is limitation. Jazz is always changing and moving in fresh directions so, if you do not like one form of Jazz, have a look around and there will be something out there for you. I feel we underestimate how important Jazz is and how, in terms of moving Hip-Hop on, it is essential. So many of the classic Rap and Hip-Hop artists cite Jazz as key; their albums incorporating Jazz in a very primal and affectionate way. Maybe pure, un-distilled Jazz is still resigned to specialist radio stations but so many modern artists are bringing in touches of Jazz to heighten their own music. Without realising it, most of us are listening to Jazz on a daily basis and actually enjoying it! It is easy to get into a habit where you only listen to stuff you grew up around or stick with a particular genre. Sometimes, we let our tastes widen but so many of us do not take leaps and experience something different. I think a music consumer is richer and happier when they listen to as much as they can. I do feel like it is impossible to like everything and embrace all music but I myself have started to investigate genres that I ignored until now. It can be very boring listening to the same music so, when you can, have a listen to something else and I am sure you will enjoy it. Maybe some of what is coming from the Jazz will not strike your mind but I am willing to bet that there is something from the world of Jazz you will like. I know it is hard to sort of break from a listening pattern and bring something new into the fold. Many of us, as mentioned, do stick with what we know and feel that anything we do not listen to isn’t worth the time.
PHOTO CREDIT: Chris Cameron Photography
I have started to listen to a lot of modern Country and Folk – something I have neglected for some time. I have also checked out a few Drill artists and, whilst it is not a genre I can see myself truly getting behind, there are some interesting sounds coming through. Before long, this natural sense of investigation reveals some fresh treasure and your music collection will be broader. I feel like the more aware we are of music’s spectrum and full extent, the more enriched and educated we are. Not all music is great and worth the trouble but few of us actually step out of our comfort zones and discover something fresh. Maybe this has to change and I am not sure what is responsible for this trend. Perhaps it goes back decades but I do feel modern playlists and streaming sites do not do quite enough to bring classic sounds to new listeners; a lot of genre-specific playlists are not broad enough or they are too concerned with promoting new music and neglect older sounds altogether. We do need to change practices and ensure that as many people as possible are exposed to more music. What bothers me is how people dismiss genres without ever listening to it and knowing what it is about. Jazz is one of those genres that gets a brunt of ignorance with people turning up their noses. It is not the only genre that gets a sniffy response but I feel like, if we all spend a bit more time expanding our tastes, then we will all be better for it. I shall move on now because I am aware there are other things to talk about. It just perturbs me that, with so much music out there, so many are unwilling to embrace this wave with any real interest and determination. One of the greatest joys imaginable is stumbling on a terrific song or artist that you were not aware of; discovering a genre that was foreign before and having this new obsession.
I have already mentioned Jazz and the fact that it sort of gets this rather cold reaction. Away from the true fans and aficionados, trying to dispel the myth that Jazz is pretty boring is a hard job. Aside from exciting British talent, there is a lot of variation and choice for those who are new to Jazz. I do feel like the world of Jazz that Miles Davis inhabited is a lot different to the one now. Back when he was reigning, there wasn’t the same scope and variation we have now. Maybe he was a pioneer in the sense he opened up Jazz and took it to new places. Look at an album like Bitches Brew and it has hallmarks of Prog-Rock. The way songs (on that album) went in all directions and were longer than traditional Jazz pieces; one can draw a line from Miles Davis’ more experimental songs and Prog-Rock. I do love Jazz in general but I admit that, back in the 1940s/1950s/1960s it was a little restrictive. Geniuses like Davis shook Jazz up and, with it, inspired generations of musicians in all genres. I do love the fact there is this new album coming; something that will introduce Jazz to new listeners and shows that, yes, Jazz is not as one-dimensional as you thought. I think the mid-1980s was a period where, to be fair, he was not producing his best work but there was still that determination and passion there. Davis died in 1991 but one cannot understate his impact and influence on the Jazz scene. He was at the forefront of stylistic changes in Jazz and, like all the best influencers, ensured that Jazz still has a voice today. If it were not for the likes of Miles Davis, maybe Jazz would have been relegated to the side and not have been taken to heart but so many Hip-Hop leaders.
They, in turn, have made Jazz accessible to the new generation who are bringing other genres into Jazz. All of the time, Jazz is changing its chemistry and shape but, at its heart, it remains true. Jazz is a genre that will never die and, in fact, with modern broadening things out, I feel like Jazz will become much more integrated into the mainstream. It may sound a little compromising but, the more accessible Jazz is, the more likely it is to be employed by modern artists. By that, I mean splicing other genres together with Jazz creates this more arresting and popular sound and it means people can experience Jazz in a new way. Direct, unfiltered Jazz still has its place but I do worry a lot of people are unwilling to accept it and spend the time listening. Instead, there is this strand of modern Jazz that is captivating, physical and deeply impressive. This will continue for many years and, as new sub-genres spring up, Jazz will integrate them and compel the next generation. Jazz is a genre that is moving forward all of the time and is a part of the fabric. One might say that, the more Jazz steps away from its roots, the more it betrays the original pioneers. Look at any genre and one can see how it has changed through the years. Modern Folk and Country is a lot different to what was being produced in the 1960s. Modern Punk is a different thing to the original movement in the 1970s; Pop today is completely different to what was out there decades ago. Music is always changing and that is a good thing. It might be hard convincing everyone that Jazz warrants your energy and time but we need to dispel these myths regarding its limitations and past. Even if you are a little unmoved by the older Jazz from the likes of John Coltrane, the modern breed is a lot different. Miles Davis has been responsible for Jazz’s continued appeal and place; the way it has changed and how it has helped reshape music in general.
IN THIS PHOTO: Ledisi
It is harder to review a track that relies more on instrumentation than vocals. That said, there is plenty of life in Rubberband of Life. Opening with Davis repeating the word ‘rubberband’, there is a rumble of percussion and the sound of traffic. In terms of Davis’ playing, there is more in common with Kind of Blue and Birth of the Cool, I guess, compared with his more experimental work. The trumpet work has a definitely spiciness and heat but it is tempered compared with what we saw on his more groundbreaking albums. In a way, that style suits the song a lot better. One detects suaveness and cool emanating from the song. You hear the drums roll and this sass filter through the speakers and are transported somewhere special. When Ledisi comes to the microphone, she talks about making sacrifices if you want to make a life. Looking at the song’s title, you get impression of flexibility or being this rubberband – stretching in different directions and being subjected to the unpredictable forces of life. Ledisi’s voice is gorgeous but holds a lot of power and strike. Backed by insatiable horns and this strange groove, Ledisi offers this gravity and seamlessly blends into the brew. Her cool and uplifting vocal is almost like a mantra. One has their own impression regarding the lyrics and will paint their own scenes. It seems that struggle is part of the agenda; the way we all have to battle in order to make a successful life for ourselves. I mentioned how Jazz, great Jazz, is not restrictive and is not solely for certain people. We have the backbone of Miles Davis and his brilliance but we get the sensational and vibrant vocals of Ledisi. I am not sure how the partnership of Ledisi and Davis came about but there is this perfect partnership. Of course, that decision was not made by Davis himself but the chemistry between them is wonderful.
PHOTO CREDIT: @rontyoungphotography
There is a fire burning inside, it is said, and it is wonderful how the Neo-Soul and R&B of Ledisi creates this warm wave against the hotter and more forceful tones coming from the back. Redemptive, inspiring and resolute, Rubberband of Life is a call of strength and fortitude against the rocks. The heroine talks about burning in the soul and how you want to make a life? If you do, then you need to show that determination and realise that there is greatness inside of you. Although the combination of Ledisi and Davis was not intended back in 1985, this new recording is incredible. We hear snippets of Davis and, of course, his incredible playing drives the song forward. It is often difficult pairing two different worlds in music but, on Rubberband of Life, the combination is successful. You are hooked by the smooth and sensuous rush of the foreground and attracted to the blasts and elements from the back. It all blends together marvellously and it is impossible to hear the song and not be moved. In many ways, I feel Rubberband of Life has a lot in common with the great R&B/Neo-Soul songs of the 1990s and early part of the last decade. That is no bad thing and, actually, one gets this blast of nostalgia and old-school vibes. I have listened to Rubberband of Life several times and, each time, new stuff is revealed. The inspiring spirit of the track will lift you up and brightens your mood. The song does calm a bit past the half-way mark; where there is a bit more chance for the composition to breathe and for the images to sink in. The heroine sings about letting it go and, maybe, she is referring to the tension of a rubberband and how we need to let that go. Whether you are familiar with the work of Ledisi and Miles Davis or not, this is a song that has its own spirit and brilliance. Originally released on the Rubberband EP, it will feature on the Rubberband album, as the opening tracks, and is an interesting combination of new vocals and Davis’ older input. I love the track and have heard many positive comments regarding it. Have a listen to it and feel all the stress and strain of life fade away.
PHOTO CREDIT: @rontyoungphotography
Rubberband is out on 6th September so make sure you pre-order it. The album features these Miles Davis sketches with some great modern singers on them. Ledisi fronts the amazing Rubberband of Life but there are other terrific tracks (on the album) that will stick in the mind. It is weird to think that there is new material coming from Davis, almost thirty years after he died. I guess, like Prince, there was a certain amount of material left in the vaults when he died. It is intriguing to consider there might be other Davis works that are begging for release. Maybe there are fewer songs in the Davis vault compared to Prince but I would be interested to see more Miles Davis music. It goes back to my line regarding posthumous albums and whether there is a line one needs to draw. If you release everything and do not consider the quality then it is a disservice to the artist. I do feel uncomfortable that certain artists – such as Amy Winehouse – are being talked about in regards new material and touring…despite the fact that she has no say in any of it. I guess fans will always demand new work but there is a point where you have to say enough is enough. Miles Davis is a different case altogether. He has been dead for a long time and there has not been a huge amount of posthumous work. Now, a new generation can discover the master and see that fusion of modern artists with slightly older blueprints. This is the point of a review when I look ahead and see where the artist is going. Obviously, we cannot do the same with Miles Davis but I do urge people to listen to his work and see how amazing it is. From the peerless Kind of Blue and Birth of the Cool through to Sketches of Spain and In a Silent Way. There is so much to enjoy and, when it comes to styles, you cannot pin the man down. He was genuinely at the forefront and one of those people who wanted to take Jazz to new worlds. Because of that, if you are a bit picky when it comes to Jazz, Davis is a perfect artist. There are raw and exhilarating moments and those more cool and collected. Even though his songs are, largely, instrumental, there is so much imagery and texture projected. I shall leave things here but I want people to give Jazz a bit more time and affection and, if you can, get a copy of Rubberband – it is a fantastic album and will provide much delight. It is not often I get to review Miles Davis but, along with Ledisi, we have this Jazz treasure that shows what an exciting genre (Jazz is); how amazing it can truly be and what power…
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