Members of the Miracle Orchestra and The Slip come together occasionally and perform as the Miracle Slip, an amalgamation of keen improvisational focus that never fails to draw a crowd. The other night, there was a special reason to come out and see the band. They were coming together to perform a tribute to the late great Miles Davis, who would have been 75 on May 31st. Conceived by trumpet virtuoso Taylor Obynum, of Spidermonkey Stories (who opened the show) the event pulled a big turnout, as a crowd of eager fans spilled out onto the street, anxious to celebrate the legendary musician's arrival to this planet with some of Boston's finest.

Miles Davis exists in a world of superlatives. His influence on the world of music is vast, his mark on the history and evolution of jazz indelible, and his legacy profound. Perhaps more important than his singular visionary genius, however, was his ability to share and enhance that vision with a dazzling lineup of the musical giants of the time. From the early years with John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly, Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly, and Paul Chambers, to the exquisite collaborations with Gil Evans where Davis assimilated the spicy sounds of Brazilian and Spanish rhythms, through his union with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams, the music with Miles at the center began to peel back the layers of acoustic jazz to unearth a slightly more raw, decidedly funky style. This was to pave the way for an astounding - and somewhat controversial - movement in jazz.

It was '68 to '72 when the whole scene changed forever. Jazz plugged in, turned on, and blew the roof off an entire musical genre. Together with a core partnering of John MacLaughlin on guitar, Wayne Shorter on tenor and soprano sax, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Joe Zawinul on keys, and Dave Holland on bass, Miles brought jazz and rock'n'roll together as one - some say for the first time - and the two have been inextricably linked ever since. Purists bemoan the mutation of the jazz tradition, but the music spawned a rich tradition that is flourishing to this day. Fusion was alive. Albums such as In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew, A Tribute to Jack Johnson, and Live Evil have become the defacto standards for those who thirst for the measured complexities of jazz improvisation but also thrive on gut-wrenching riffs.

Enter Miracle Slip. Directly indebted to when jazz went electric, the two Boston-based bands have their roots in the Berklee School of music and have carved out a solid niche in the local, college, and national jam scene. Longtime friends, the two groups often share jams and are sometimes booked as a single entity. The Slip, featuring Andrew Barr on drums, Brad Barr on guitar, and Marc Friedman on electric bass are renowned for deep pushes into strong, individual grooves, creating an intensity of sound that has earned them the beloved moniker of "power trio." According to MO drummer Bill Carbone, they have the space to spread out, lay down a groove, and chase each other around a jam as well as anybody else out there.

Miracle Orchestra, with Jared Sims on sax and reeds, Garret Sayers on bass and percussion, Geoff Scott on guitars, and Bill Carbone on drums, brings a more layered approach to their strongly improvisational style. Rather than predominantly solo-driven, their music is melodically textured and blends kickin' funk with the warm rhythms of the lower latitudes, with an affinity towards reggae, resulting in the self-ascribed sound summary of "dirty dubbeat mayhem." In the spirit of Miles, these two bands combined their formidable, distinct talents and the result was simply a great show.

The vibe was right at Harpers Ferry, a staple venue for excellent live music in the heart of Boston's zone of higher education, as a mixed bag of students, jazz fans, and Miracle Slip loyalists prepared to pay their respects. After some expectation, the eight members filed onstage and settled comfortably into position. The feeling of heading into the unchartered, spontaneous world of Miles's signature style of musical exploration created a tangible sense of mystery and anticipation. For the next three hours, we followed the band into that realm where music followed a different set of rules.

From the first tune - "Brown Hornet" from the album Filles at Kilimanjaro - the crowd was hooked. It started as a low rumbling of instruments, a combination of ethereal keys, deep wandering bass, and delicate cymbal caressing punctuated by the staccato, slightly tortured infusions of bent guitar strings and horn blasts that hearkened back to headier days in Mr. Davis's career. Against this wonderfully gritty background the alto sax made a shy entrance; when Jared wasn't on the high sax he was teasing electronics and tweaking effects. For the second tune they busted into "Savad" from Live Evil, and the groove was full on, as the members of the Miracle Slip paired up and put their heads down into the jam, spread across the tight stage like conjurer's in a musical séance, awash in colored light.

The music evolved accordingly throughout the night, at times measuredly discordant and lost in a sea of possibility, but always finding its way back home to a coherent attack of charging drums, cowbells, organ, guitar, clapping, and horns. The set proceeded with a jam into "Blue and Green," followed by a smokin' "Selim." Right on its heels was "81", and the set closed out with a rousing rendition of "Black Satin." In the middle of the set Taylor Obynum came back out and tore into a trumpet solo that, for perhaps the first time that evening, actually put Miles right there on stage with the music. For those moments, Miles was no longer part of the fabric of the music as a whole; he was spilling out into the night on the unmistakable resonance of what is perhaps the most recognizable brass sound in the world.

For an encore, the boys busted with "All Blues" and put the hammer down into it, whipping the classic favorite into a spicy, booty shakin' romp that ended with a wind-down foray into "Sanctuary." Around the room there was nothing but good energy and miles of smiles.

If you're in the Boston area, members of MO and the Slip will be playing with Senegalese Master Drummer Mamadou N'Dyaie and DJ Mr. Rourke, in an evening of West African Trance at The Lizard Lounge on Tuesday June 12th. Also performing is the award-winning Boston jazz outfit Dead Cat Bounce (also featuring members of Miracle/Slip). Check it out!

J.R. Richards
JamBase Boston Correspondent
Go See Live Music!

[Published on: 6/5/01]

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