Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Children On The Corner - 2003 "Rebirth"

Even more come across the time-worn paths of ether and obscurity: Children on the Corner is a collective made up of ex-Miles Davis sidemen from his eclectic years that include Sonny Fortune, Michael Henderson, Badal Roy, Ndugu Chancler, and Barry Finnerty. The band is led by keyboardist and composer Michael Wolff, the only non-Davis personnel. Rebirth was recorded live over two nights at the popular Oakland, CA, nightspot Yoshi's. The program is a set of tunes from Davis, as well as some group and Wolff originals. The album kicks off with one of the most inspiring readings of Josef Zawinul's "Directions." For over 21 minutes, Fortune and Wolff explore the outer reaches of Davis' loose harmonic universe. The small vamps and riffs are deceptive in that they provide a framework for all kinds of harmonic interaction across numerous planes. Dissonance and groove enter into a beautiful dialogue as Fortune blows the living hell out of his ax. Wolff's fills with the right hand to provide a reference not for returning, but for jumping off, and Finnerty's razored chords and riffing patterns keep blues and funk in the forefront of the groove itself. "New York Girl" is done is two parts here with the band's own "Oakland Raga" -- featuring Roy's shimmering tables on the tip of the greasy funk underneath inserted between sections of Wolff's own compositions. "Madimba" and "Tone Poem" are melodic tonal studies that borrow from Davis' modalism as much as they do his minimalism and open the way for the psychedelic street jam "Bb Philly Funk." The set closes with an elongated, greatly inspired performance of the singsong-y "Black Satin," with the rhythm section bringing it home into the mysterioso Selim S'evade darkness with nods to George Clinton. In all, this is a fine, deftly played, and emotionally fired-up recording, one of the better post-Davis tributes out there; it deserves to be heard for the depth of inspiration and sheer musicianship between bandmembers alone. That the music stands on its own outside the Davis connection is a tribute to the emotional and musical commitment of Children on the Corner.

Miles Davis’s first electric period traced an arc from 1969 to 1975 which continues to inform the most exploratory electric jazz of the past three decades. Miles developed techniques (generic cross-pollination and studio cut and paste, to name only two) which produced seriously funky and out music and which have inspired a whole slew of innovators including – to take fellow trumpeters as one example – Jon Hassell, Cuong Vu, Dave Douglas, Erik Truffaz and Rob Mazurek. Miles Davis’s legacy continues to serve as a sturdy dam against the waves of conservatism promulgated by the likes of Stanley Crouch, Wynton Marsalis and numerous conservatory graduates. In terms of influence Miles always was and, more than a decade after his death, continues to be both archetypal outsider and right at the very center of things.

That’s one part of Miles Davis’s bequest. Wadada Leo Smith’s Yo Miles! and Mark Isham’s Silent Way Project have taken another route and approached Miles’ 1970s music as repertoire ripe for musical interpretation. Two recently formed groups to have shared this approach comprise former members of Miles’ 1970s groups: guitarist Pete Cosey’s Children of Agharta and Michael Henderson’s Children On The Corner. In the latter example Miles Davis’s bassist is joined by three other Davis alumni: Ndugu Chancler on drums, Sonny Fortune on sax, Badal Roy on tablas and two others, Michael Wolff on keyboards and Barry Finnerty on guitar.

Rebirth is a pleasure. Sonny Fortune literally kicks off “Directions” with a five minute solo at once more urgent and more ragged than his playing on Agharta and Pangaea. Ndugu Chancler and Michael Henderson drive the music along and Barry Finnerty’s guitar, though no match for Cosey, is at times suitably firey. Michael Wolff’s organ dovetails nicely with the rest of the group although his two compositions, “Oakland Raga” and “Madimba,” sound out of place alongside the other pieces.

Miles Davis established a level of innovation, passion and commitment to which most can only aspire. Ultimately your judgement of Children On The Corner will rest upon your perception of his 1970s music and what it is that continues to make it vital thirty years later.

All through jazz history, Miles' groups were incubators of young talent, and this record brings together some of the artists that sprang forth from his bands of 70s and early 80s. The title of this project is a reference to that role as well as to the seminal record of that area, "On The Corner".
The key player here is Michael Henderson, who not only was on that recording, but provided the bass that was virtually the backbone of all of Miles' groundbreaking recordings of the early 70's. Here he's teamed with Ndugu Chancler, who toured with Miles and Michael just after the "Live Evil" record. Chancler and Henderson are so locked in that it's a blast just to listen to these two guys. But essential to the unique sound of "On The Corner" was tabla, and this record is fortunate to have the man from that recording, Badal Roy, who merges brilliantly with these two.
Sonny Fortune, who came on the band not long after that release, shows that still he's pushing himself into new territory like he did with Miles in '74 and '75; it's like watching an painter in his studio sketching new works. Barry Finnerty, who was on Miles' comeback record "Man with The Horn", shifts back and forth from the chopping rhythm to a variety of leads that were essential to the sound of Miles' groups at that time. The keyboardist here, Michael Wolf, didn't play with Miles, but is clearly a serious student while adding his own unique personality (always what Miles sought from his players).
So this record is a big breath of fresh air for jazz fans who don't believe that jazz should have stopped in 1967. And for the DJs that are checking out past jazz masters through releases like the "Verve Remixed" series, here's some real live present day jazz masters pushing on in new directions, in the way Miles taught them.

The concept of the band is good, even if the recording quality leaves plenty to be desired. It shows electric jazz has developed its own conventions, and like acoustic bebop, electric jazz is becoming circumscribed by style with electric jazz “tradition” of electric-era Miles and Tony Williams Lifetime spiced with a little Mahavishnu-inspired chops being the standards. Once again jazz’s heritage is tending to overwhelm the present.

Track Listing:

1. Directions;
2. New York Girl I;
3. Oakland Raga;
4. New York Girl II;
5. Madimba;
6. Tone Poem;
7. Bb Philly Funk;
8. Black Satin.


Barry Finnerty: guitar;
Michael Wolff: piano, keys;
Ndugu Chancler: drums;
Sonny Fortune: sax, flute;
Michael Henderson: bass;
Badal Roy: tablas

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