Miles Davis changed the way we hear jazz so many times that a single concert would have a devil of a time fitting them all in. So this Hollywood Bowl tribute Wednesday night, a followup of sorts to the Miles Davis-Gil Evans Still Ahead concert in 2009, concentrated upon only three of Miles’s directions. Yet not only it was enough to suggest the colossal diversity of Miles’s achievements, the Miles Electric Band portion of the night went further, recapturing the volatility and danger of his music in the 1970s.
First up, though, was the Jimmy Cobb “So What” Band, an acoustic sextet playing the entire “Kind Of Blue” album in order. It was not necessarily a re-creation, for the uptempo numbers were brighter, thicker, faster than the originals; only in the introspective “Blue in Green” and “Flamenco Sketches” did they convey the unique veiled melancholy that envelops the whole record. Tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson made the most explicit attempt to channel one of the original musicians, echoing John Coltrane’s hard-nosed tone. Drummer Cobb, being the sole surviving member of the “Kind Of Blue” sessions, didn’t have to, of course — driving the band with spare, subdued, authentic authority.
From there, with a video as a linking interlude, the Miles Electric Band leaped with a startling splash into the thick of the electric years, starting with the theme from “Jack Johnson” and working backwards through a swashbuckling “Spanish Key” to “In A Silent Way/It’s About That Time,” “Nefertiti” and finally forward to “Jean Pierre.” This was a Miles Davis sound that no one ever heard in concert at the time, an 11-member band that combined most of the complex, ever-changing goulash of ingredients from roughly 1968 to 1975 — including, astonishingly, the still-underestimated Indian influence as handled by tabla player Badal Roy. Trumpeter Nicholas Payton blasted merrily with “Bitches Brew” bravado, keyboardists John Beasley and Robert Irving III and DJ Logic (turntables) unleashed wild effects from their devices. Everyone rocked and socked, and it wasn’t nostalgic in the least.
Although Marcus Miller’s “Tutu Revisited” band reflected Miles’s decision to back off the cutting edge toward an accommodation with pop-jazz-funk trends in the ’80s, its set may have been truer to Miles’s credo of never looking back than the previous acts. After playing “Splatch” and “Portia” from the “Tutu” album (which was largely Miller’s creation), Miller went off the reservation and introduced worthy new material of his own in this idiom, his bass popping and feeding the band, occasionally playing almost nose-to-nose with trumpeter Sean Jones the way Miles used to sidle up to his sidemen.
The choice of emcee — distinguished Miles alumni Herbie Hancock — was perfect, and there was a ceremony beforehand unveiling a new Miles Davis U.S. postage stamp.