Throwback Record

Week of April 10

Stevie Wonder, Music from the Movie "Jungle Fever", 1991

Robert Glasper & Miles Davis, "Everything's Beautiful" Album Review

Robert Glasper & Miles Davis, "Everything's Beautiful" Album Review

-I consider my experience with Everything's Beautiful a perfect starting point for what's gonna be now my life-long pursuit to fully comprehend the work and the life of the mastermind known as Miles Davis. 

Robert Glasper strongly believes that he would've been invited to be in Miles Davis' band at some point had the two been active in the same period. I'd agree. One was the legendary jazz mogul who popularized the horn-driven modern instrumental jazz, completely altered the landscape of the improvised art and broke through countless barriers in music styles and genres while being one of the first instrumentalists to ever become a globally-known icon and general badass without ever having to sing one word, and the other one is the well-established creative mind and production wizard in the indie soul/hip-hop world and artistic leader who has the weight to gather greats like Queen Badu, up-and-coming soulstress Laura Mvula and alternative sensation Hiatus Kaiyote on the same project. I can just picture an impressive Miles pointing at Robert in the studio being all "hey that cat is dope... go grab him and see if he can knock out a few joints with us next Wednesday".

All speculations aside, Everything's Beautiful is the extended Miles-related project and follow-up to the soundtrack to the jazz musician's biopic, which Glasper was responsible for creating and curating. It is sonically similar to the Robert Glasper Experiment projects, with the trademark keyboard-centric neo-soul sound consisting of compressed drums and first-class vocalists and rappers' appearances. Although Miles Davis was credited along as a primary artist, his involvement is minimal, with a few sound bites of his speeches and occasional obvious samples of his performances that Glasper flips here and there. In other words, this doesn't feel like as much a collaboration project by Robert Glasper and Miles Davis as it does a tribute to the jazz musician performed solely by Glasper who draws inspiration from riffs, motifs and progressions from the great.

Bilal's performance in "Ghetto Walkin'" sees the jazz-singer-turn-acoustic-songwriter working his signature high-pitched, raspy falsetto voice in sultry fashion, while accompanied by crisp percussion, vocal layering and a looped keyboard riff taken from the beginning of "The Ghetto Walk" by Miles. J Dilla's little brother Illa J is featured on "They Can't Hold Me Down", a Dilla-esque joint swimming in an intricate chord progression on tremolo keyboard with a short-and-sweet verse by the late beatmaker's little brother, a creation of subtlety that has the listener bopping their head as they picture this must've been what it was like to journey in Miles Davis' none-compromising and stubborn imagination. "Violets" is another similar soulquarian-like hip-hop joint, produced by 9th Wonder and featuring an introspective performance by Phonte of The Foreign Exchange. Glasper lets loose of his jazz piano playing in clear and beautifully off-tempo drums that eagerly drive the track forward, as Phonte contemplates the fragile reality and colorful abstract of living in this world in a carefree and comforting lyrical display. 

"Maiysha" featuring Erykah Badu is a cover of the latin-influenced funk-jazz joint by Miles Davis, although this rendition utilizes a heavier and more mechanic bossa nova groove with help from a simplistic drum machine. I'd previously seen a live performance associated with Buzzfeed that Erykah and Robert did together of this song--is it just me, or is Erykah Badu leaning more towards satire and light-hearted comedy music in her recent work? But You Cain't Use My Phone, her notorious mixtape that was released a year ago, was a delightful listen that some might say lacked a bit of focus and sincerity, and it was hard to grasp which direction the 45-year-old was planning to take her legend of a career; "Maiysha" carries on with such nature, being humorous and similar-sounding to her mixtape, all the while featuring an effortless vocal performance by the soul queen and a short funky turnaround towards the end. The track isn't really the high point of the album, but who cares, I still love Erykah and get excited when I hear her voice. The collaboration with "Hiatus Kaiyote" on "Little Church" is a product of peculiar arrangement and vocal ambient. The original track by Miles Davis was already a trip, yet Hiatus Kaiyote's signature loose arrangement style and free-flowing instrumental riffs make the band the most ideal talents to be included in this rendition of the obscure track off of Live-Evil, an incredibly experimental project by Miles Davis in 1971. My favorite moment of Everything's Beautiful comes at the near-conclusion of "Little Church", where a piano-loop that's merely 30 seconds long comes on, so incredibly reminiscent of Dilla that it literally made me go WTF, let me replay that over and over again. It's amazing how a clip lasting over such a short amount of time can become a memorable moment of a project, and it's a blessing that it's a purely instrumental--Robert Glasper knows that it's better to leave the listeners wanting for more than to give them more than what they wanted. 

The second half of the album sees the project turning into more of an experiment where 1/3 of the Robert Glasper Experiment is at his best. In "Silence is the Way", with the help from the intro by a trumpet solo, Glasper flips an eccentric keyboard riff from "In a Silent Way" by Davis, crafting out a mystic atmosphere, while British soul singer Laura Mvula navigates through the track with her raw vocals. "Song for Selim" sees the producer take the soothing chord progression from "Selim", and apply a Sade-like smoothness, head-spinning reverb and beautifully intricate vocal blending by the female group KING to the track. "Milestones" the remix is a boisterous and electrifying rendition of Davis' song of the same name, where we finally hear a full-length aggressive piano solo by Glasper the jazz-piano behemoth in a fast-tempo and almost angry-sounding beat. "I'm Leaving You" features what is probably the best vocal performance of the album, where Ledisi delivers a furious and threatening message of dismissal, a statement of abandonment that sounds like every committed person's worst nightmare. The album ends gloriously with a collaboration with none-other-than Stevie Wonder, who blesses us with a stunning harmonica performance--it's only appropriate that a master wind player gets to pay tribute to the genius of a master horn player. "Right On Brotha" is a disco-funk tribute to the vibrant life and talent of Miles Davis and a pleasantly energetic conclusion to the whole album.

After a few listens to Everything's Beautiful, I've come to the conclusion that this is not the average tribute album. Only Miles Davis enthusiasts can come to truly appreciate the project (and I'm not one--I'm working toward becoming one, though), because every track Glasper reworked on the album is arguably obscure and has remained under the radar for years. Only did I begin to appreciate the genius ability of Robert Glasper's to disintegrate and reconstruct existing works of brilliance and recreate from them when I researched the specific Miles Davis tracks that Robert Glasper based his project upon, and from this I can come to truly understand the significant influence the legendary musician/horn player has come to cast on this contemporary musical talent. As someone who's been meaning to not only get into but also study decades of Miles Davis' work, I consider my experience with Everything's Beautiful a perfect starting point for what's gonna be now my life-long pursuit to fully comprehend the work and the life of the mastermind known as Miles Davis. 

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