Charles Pillow Large Ensemble - Electric Miles

Label: Mama Records, 2018

Personnel – Charles Pillow: alto and soprano sax, flutes; David Liebman: soprano sax; Colin Gordon: alto and soprano sax, flute; Luke Norris: tenor sax, clarinet; CJ Ziarniak: tenor sax; Karl Stabnau: bass clarinet; Michael Davis: trombone; Abe Nouri: trombone; Jack Courtright: trombone; Gabe Ramos: bass trombone; Tony Kadleck: trumpet; Charlie Carr: trumpet; Clay Jenkins: trumpet; Tim Hagans, trumpet; Julian Garvue: electric piano; Chuck Bergeron: electric bass; Mike Forfia: acoustic bass; Jared Schonig: drums. 

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Besides being a sought-after sideman in both pop and jazz genres, saxophonist Charles Pillow is also a qualified bandleader whose musical adroitness shines through on his latest work for large ensemble, aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Bitches Brew and the strong heritage of the early electric period of Miles Davis’ music. 

Conveniently entitled Electric Miles, the album features amazing soloists such as saxophonist Dave Liebman and trumpeters Tim Hagans and Clay Jenkins in a cross-pollination of jazz and rock with ample textural dimension. Aggregating 8 tightly structured compositions (four by Miles, three by Joe Zawinul, and one by Wayne Shorter), the program is competently handled by a 17-piece big-band comprising gifted multi-generational musicians with an unaffected ability to read and improvise.

Zawinul’s “Pharaoh’s Dance” opens with a deep-running tranquility, indicating that this music can be satisfyingly funkified with coolness and strongly boosted by legitimate solos. Pillow’s voice erupts with clarity after a short interlude that echoes trumpet riffs. Before him, it was Hagans who delivered a great solo with pure post-MIles intention.

Also penned by Zawinul and popularized by Miles, “In a Silent Way”, displays a blatant variation in the rhythmic intensity, having the inaugural docile atmosphere veering to an electrifying rock groove populated by Jared Schonig’s stupendous transition fills and Julian Garvue’s keyboard ecstasy. The drummer takes the liberty to embark on a short solo ride before concluding the piece with the rest of the band.

Rendered with grandiose counterpoint and delicious unison lines, “Bitches Brew” never boils over, except when Hagan's trumpet hits the stars. In turn, the solo-free “Sanctuary”, which honors Wayne Shorter, is filled with abundant serenity, in opposition to the relentless, outgoing moves of Miles’ “Spanish Key”, fueled with passionate improvisations from Jenkins and Pillow..

Coaxing wide dynamics with broader hooks “Black Satin” and “Yesternow” are set on fire due to Dave Liebman’s stunning flights on soprano. His discourses are designed with flashy outside efforts, lavish emotional crescendos, and brilliant resolve. While “Satin” thrives with the rhythmic magnetism of powerful bass lines and rocking drum fluxes, “Yesternow” is elegantly brought to life by a creamy alto flute.

Mr. Pillow shaped up Electric Miles with scrupulous arrangements containing fluttering horn lines and expressionistic individual solos. Everything flows with an electrifying poise. 

 Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
 01 - Pharaoh’s Dance ► 04 - In a Silent Way ► 07 - Yesternow