Monday, February 12, 2007

Gunn Plays Miles

Russell Gunn
Plays Miles Davis
HighNote HCD 7161

Russell Gunn has a reputation as the jazz artist most successfully at integrating elements of jazz and hip-hop in a way that stays true to both idioms. While his newest CD, Russell Gunn Plays Miles Davis, is not a part of that hybridization project, it does show an affinity for Davis’ music, including, but not limited to his later, electric periods.

Gunn Plays starts with “Tutu” the title track from one of the most critically debated Miles Davis albums. The original was a studio creation with Marcus Miller laying down each track himself, allowing Davis to simply blow on top. It is interesting to hear it here, in a legitimate small group context, although Orrin Evans’ keyboards do hearken back to spirit of the original. “Tutu” is a well chosen opener, with Gunn making some eloquent statements, and Mark Kelley contributing a nice bass solo.

While Gunn eschews the Harmon mute throughout, for the most part he keeps well within classic Davis registers. On “Bitches Brew” however, he does break out the pedal for some power blowing on a free ranging performance. It is another interesting arrangement of a Davis classic originally produced for a much larger ensemble, held together by Montez Coleman’s driving drumming.

Gunn does not limit the program to electric Miles Davis repertoire, taking on several pieces from the second classic quintet, including Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,” given a Latin groove by Coleman and percussionist Kahil Kwame Bell. With an assured solo from Gunn and rich textures from Evans on acoustic and electric piano, “Footprints” is a fine example of ensemble interplay.

Taken at a slightly faster tempo than the Kind of Blue version, “All Blues” is another kind groover thanks to the funky electric piano of Evans. It is a good feature for Gunn who shows a beautiful, bluesy tone.

The only original of the set, “New New Blues” is indeed an easy going blues, somewhat evocative of “The Theme.” Gunn, Evans, and Kelley all speak their peace before taking it out. It is a fitting closer to a strong tribute.

Gunn Plays is a well conceived thematic album. While, as the liner notes point out, this may not be Gunn’s everyday band, they sound great together, showing a high degree of compatibility. For his part, Gunn proves he can express much without burying listeners in a blizzard of notes, just like his inspiration for this session. It is a CD that may surprise some who only know Gunn for his hip-hop hybrids.