(4 / 5)
Would you believe, “Bitches Brew” is 50 years old this year, 2020. Miles Davis continues to influence musicians worldwide almost three decades after his death and half a century after that ground breaking album.
Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer channels Davis across this creative and liberated work, “SulaMadiana”.
His partner in crime here is former Miles Davis and Weather Report percussionist Mino Cinelu, whose father is from the Caribbean island of Martinique.
Molvaer grew up on an island, but with a far cooler climate; the west Norwegian island of Sula. This album’s title uses Sula and the alternative name for Martinique.
These 14 tracks dive in and out of short interlude type pieces, some percussion only and even a booming gong. Aside from trumpet and percussion here, Cinelu plays acoustic guitar while Molvær conjures up drones on the electric guitar.
A lot of it is improvisational, which seems like a daft thing for me to include in a review about jazz, perhaps! That word #jazz, reminds me of spending the day with a famous musician who played with Miles for some time, live and on record.
He told me of the time he had said to Miles about “the jazz you play”, and Miles had snapped back at him: “I don’t play no mother******* jazz. I play miiiiiillles!”
Another anecdote he shared, was when he was on tour with Davis and got into the elevator one morning to go to breakfast in the hotel. Lift stops at one floor and in gets Miles Davies, sunglasses on and silent.
“Good morning Miles. How are you today?”, asks his band member. Miles stays silent. Looks over the top of his shades and asks this guy if he is a musician! Bemused, he says, “Er, yes Miles. I am in your band. I play keyboards”.
Miles huffs, and asks him what day it was! The reply come back to tell him the day of the week. Let’s say it was a Wednesday, but I cannot recall exactly which day he said it was.
Miles stays silent and then says: “If it’s Wednesday today, I do not speak to no musician on a Wednesday”. Lift stops, doors open, Miles exits. His keyboard man is speechless.
Get into the breakfast room and there is the rest of the band. Miles ignores them and goes to a corner table on his own. Keyboard man comes in and joins his band mates and regales this story about non-communication with musicians on this day.
Expecting the guys to laugh and say, Miles is messing with you. They didn’t. They confirmed this was indeed Miles’ rule. Strange guy, difficult – but a genius and an innovator.
I still adore his album “Tutu”, and some of the stuff on this record by Nils and Mino reminded me of some of “Tutu”. The muted horn parts, especially. But this album is far more out there and avante garde, and sparse, than Tutu.
Miles Davis said of Frenchman Cinelu: “With Mino, any music swings”. Cinelu gained an international profile on Davis’ albums “We Want Miles” and “Amandla” – also noted for his playing with the likes of Weather Report, Gong, Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, Sting, Santana, Kate Bush, Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson, plus lots more.
He has also released three solo records and collaborated with Dave Holland and Kevin Eubanks on the “World Trio” album.
Nils Petter Molvær, meanwhile, is one of the most respected figures of European jazz. In 1997, he made his debut on ECM Records with the album “Khmer”, combining the Nordic feeling of nature with the Southeast Asian philosophy of sound. Taking cues from hip hop and electronic territory.
His musical journey spans a dozen records, on which he explores various combinations of acoustic and electric sounds.
He collaborated with Berlin’s electronic producer Moritz von Oswald in 2013, with the reggae philosophers Sly and Robbie in 2018 and with Bill Laswell on several occasions.
Molvær and Cinelu first met back in 2015, at a solo concert Molvær was playing in Turkey. Soon agreeing to embark on a joint project, but it wasn’t until more meetings in different parts of the world and several years later that they finally got together for a studio session in Oslo.
In early 2020, the recordings were rounded off in Cinelu’s studio in Brooklyn, with post-production later completed as a remote, transatlantic endeavour due to the global Covid 19 pandemic.
They both know each other’s cultures, and find bridges and crossings to walk paths that lead in the same direction. The pair wrote everything together. No limits. No barriers.
There are many ethnic and historical references on the album – on lead single “SulaMadiana (For Manu Dibango)”, Cinelu deliberately bows to his mentor, the late Manu Dibango, whom he calls a sage.
Elsewhere, tribute is paid to the recently deceased Afrobeat master Tony Allen, and to the jazz drummer Jimmy Cobb who also left us just a few weeks ago, and with whom Cinelu shared the Miles Davis experience.
Call it jazz. Call it experimental. Call it world music. Call it a Marmite moment, for some. Call it different. Whatever you wish to call it, I think Miles would tell you he approved…unless it was a Wednesday!
By Simon Redley
(1 / 5) ‘Dull Zone’
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’