Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Robert Glasper interview
I had a great time interviewing Robert Glasper about his new Miles Davis remix album, Everything's Beautiful—which stemmed from his work on Don Cheadle's Miles Ahead film—and a bunch of other stuff (Prince, Erykah Badu, Kamasi Washington, etc.). It's been a little while since I've done an in-depth Q-and-A, so this was a total pleasure.
I'll admit I initially regarded both Everything's Beautiful and Miles Ahead with some wariness. There are honestly not a lot of remixes, tributes, etc. that mean all that much to me—I tend to prefer it when influence and inspiration manifest themselves in less straightforward ways. But I do think there's some great material on Everything's Beautiful, particularly the tracks that sample Miles' voice (e.g., "Talking Shit," built around several remarkable minutes of Davis studio chatter, presumably from this session, during which he's playfully getting on Joe Chambers' case), the Erykah Badu "Maiysha" and the track "Violets," which features a Bill Evans piano sample from a "Blue in Green" false start. Overall, it's a very lush, listenable album with a coherent through-line.
I liked Miles Ahead less. Picking up on my comment above about remixes and tributes: I guess, in the end, I'm a primary-source guy. Mainly what I want to engage with is a) the music itself and b) what the people who made it said about it. I'd have a tough time naming a biopic that I felt illuminated the work of the artist in question; mostly I feel like the genre invites caricature, and I don't think Miles Ahead transcends that tendency. I didn't feel like it was some kind of sacrilege—Cheadle's performance is strong, and there are some funny and poignant moments sprinkled in. I also think the movie makes a very good case for '70s Miles functioning as the perfect action-movie music. In the end, though, I'm just not sure what the movie contributes to the Miles Davis legacy. For me, the best side effect was that it sent me back to the music, specifically the amazing '70s material on discs 3 and 4 of The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4, which has been blowing my mind lately.
But really Miles Ahead just made me yearn for a serious, full-on Miles documentary. So many of his collaborators are still around, and there's just so much footage. Could be a beautiful thing. I realize that this desire places me squarely in the camp that Don Cheadle was not aiming to please—and was maybe even aiming to piss off—with Miles Ahead, but I'm just being honest.
Back to Glasper for a second. I've had his 2015 album Covered on heavy rotation in recent months. I like the Black Radio albums—I heard one over the speakers in a Mexican restaurant the other day, and I loved how it sounded in a public setting—but the trio with Vicente Archer and Damion Reid speaks to me more directly. I'd enjoyed Covered last year but totally forgot about it in the year-end rush. Spinning it over and over recently made me realize how fundamentally arbitrary the year-end list thing is. Anyway, the following (filmed during the recording of Covered) needs no commentary; it's just gorgeous.
Also, don't sleep on Glasper's earlier, shockingly great trio with Derrick Hodge and Chris Dave.