Music Review: Miles… From India (Various Artists)

Information about the Album: here

Cross-posted on EpicIndia

The beauty of this album (earlier reviewed by Richard Marcus on EpicIndia) does not lie just in its adherence to Miles’ definition of jazz, but in the effortless blending with Indian Classical. And that’s why- first things first – It comes highly recommended.

I would not waste a lot breath over talking about the ensemble quality of the artists on the disc. Each of them a true master of music, adding to the mix a certain versatility that probably them themselves forget while adhering to the rules, MFI is unique in the way that several critiques would find it difficult to call it fusion. Many others would find it difficult to call it jazz. And barely a few would even venture to suggest that its Indian Classical Music. The interesting thing to note here is that this union of two musical definitions does not require either of them to be the dominant one.

The idea of the album came about as Bob Belden thought about blending two pure music genres while paying a tribute to Miles Davis, one of the finest exponents of Jazz in the previous century. Lets consider for a moment the origins of jazz itself, the influences of so many countries and so many eras, and the fact that it has survived. The evolution of gospel and ragtime into jazz, and later swing, bebop, etc. being a fascinating story for jazz lovers all the same, this album pays homage to the post-depression era jazz.

Moving to the album, it’s a set of 2 discs that I previewed in the MP3 format with due permissions through EpicIndia. Both the discs have 6 compositions uniquely different from each other.

Instead of getting into a track by track review of whats in store for the listeners, it suffices to say that almost all the compositions blend between Indian classical and jazz using a mix of multiple instruments (Sitar, Tabla, Saxophone, Drums, Bass, Electric Guitar, Violin) with each instrument being used not just for the genre where it comes from, but also to do something that its usually not expected to do. Imagine the chaotic harmony of jazz on a sitar and the aaroh-avaroh of Indian classical on electric guitar. That’s what this album is all about, as it recreates Milesian magic through his compositions.
Accroding to me, the pick of the lot are Ife, Spanish Key and All Blues from disc 1, and Blue in Green, and Miles from India from Disc 2. This by no way implies anything negative against the other tracks, all of which are wonderful in their own rendition.

While Spanish Key starts in a standard Milesian way with rich use of saxophone and piano, involving tabla, Hindustani vocals to reach its crescendo, In a silent way is a short composition based solely on Sarod.

All Blues starts with the sitar and can be a perfect appetizer for someone who hasn’t listened to a lot of jazz before this, but is an avid Hindustani Classical follower, as this composition shows how the language of music can be moulded to accommodate everyone. It’s a great composition to learn from, if you are a learner of music, because it does complete justice to the subtleties of sounds from all the instruments used.

In a silent way is a very small jazz rendition on Sarod. Its slow, deliberate and so blended with Indian classical, that for the undiscerning listener, it just comes across as a sweet simple symphony, devoid of borders created by those who love definitions.

Ife (both fast and slow) was recorded in two versions keeping in mind that only one of the versions will be incorporated in the final CD. However, once you hear the discs, you realize why the team was not able to let go of any of the two versions. My personal choice would be the faster version given the heady mix it creates.

Jean Pierre is a composition that starts off with a haunting flute arrangement, but soon evolves into a melody that may get copied by a bollywood music director quite soon.

So-what breaks the trend, and starts in a Carnatic music style and blends itself into jazz. It uses the blend o f organ with Ghatam.

Miles runs the voodoo down cannot be categorized in any way. It’s a sound that’s closer to the ragtime era, but such was the genius of Miles. However, this song is the only one in the entire collection, where at times the blending does seem a little off.

Blues in Green has a great use of backing vocals from Shankar Mahadevan. I might sound a little biased with this, but in this album, the use of vocals enriches the sound of the same music to my ears.. The composition keeps at the molten level, flowing with the moment. An additional reinforcement in this song comes through the use of Sarangi by Pt. Ram Narayan.

Great Expectations is a vintage jazz composition which uses both traditional and Indian instruments to create the required effect. Watch out for the slowed tempo and melody towards the middle section of the song which further accentuates the beauty of this composition.

Finally, Miles from India, starts off as a piano based harmony using backing vocals rich in Hindustani, and is another slow and deliberate composition from the composer Bob Belden. A very Indian way of ending a musical concert, where the raags are gradually built over a period of time through subtle variations, and as the music reaches its crescendo, it’s the point where the musician is connected to the good. Finally, to conclude the concert, the musician detaches himself/herself from the divinity yet pleasing the gods through a simple and modest harmony, to come back to the lower world.

One of the biggest things about this compilation is that despite the use of multiple instruments and platforms, and this being an arrangement of performances across several recordings, which were finally molded together in a composition, there is not a point where you can feel that an instrument or a genre is trying to dominate another. This is MUSIC – a perfectly harmonious ensemble of sounds that lets you isolate yourself from the surrounding. From my side, it gets a thumbs-up with strong recommendations.
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About Amit
Conventional, boring, believer, poet, Shayar (to be precise), lover of music, musical instruments, and all that can be called music (theoretically or metaphorically), jack of all master of none, more of a reader less of a writer, arbit philosopher, foolish debater.. and many more such things.. like so many people!

4 Responses to Music Review: Miles… From India (Various Artists)

  1. Pingback: Musings on Miles From India | Ottawa Citizen Blogs

  2. Gavin Browns says:

    From my side, it gets a thumbs-up with strong recommendations.


  3. Amit says:

    my bad Fred! Thanks for catching that!


  4. Fred says:

    Correction: The last track, Miles from India, was composed by John McLaughlin not Belden.


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