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More Kinds of Blue

Ben Gray
Staff Writer

The new album from Mostly Other People Do the Killing, Blue, has been getting lots of press (and this fantastic review). In case you’ve missed this album, it’s a note-for-note remake of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue with a relationship to jazz that is akin to Keith Jarrett playing Bach. Think what you will of the album, but perhaps Ethan Iverson summed it up best - "The importance of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and the rest of the cast of Kind of Blue is hardly confined to jazz. To declare that they not be allowed to be part of a deconstructed or conceptual undertaking might inadvertently suggest they are not "worthy" of arty mischief. Of course they are worthy! They are Gods, nothing is going to harm them". Whatever your opinion of the MOPDtK album, there should be no question that Blue is successful in pointing out just how incredible the original album is. As such I would argue that Blue functions more as conceptual art and as a tribute to Miles, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Paul Chambers, and Jimmy Cobb than as an album in itself.

It should be pointed out, though, that Kind of Blue has never been a sacred cow...

Miles Davis Quintet, "So What" live at 1963 Newport Jazz Festival
Miles, trumpet; George Coleman, sax; Herbie Hancock, piano; Ron Carter, bass; Tony Williams, drums

Plenty of jazz artists have taken on the songs from Kind of Blue, paying tribute to the original artists in their own way while also putting their own stamp on the music. A small sampling is here - these are of course by no means the "best" covers of these tunes, and of course the definitive versions will always be the originals on Kind of Blue, but don’t front on these:

1. So What

Grant Green’s version of "So What", with Green on guitar, Kenny Drew on piano, Ben Tucker on bass, and Ben Dixon on drums, is from his 1961 album Sunday Mornin’. Green’s guitar coupled with Tucker’s bass in the introduction is a winner, and this whole thing swings along nicely, without a misplaced note to be found.

2. Freddie Freeloader

Jon Hendricks’ version of "Freddie Freeloader" is from the 1990 album of the same name. In a sense, this is also a note-for-note remake of this particular tune with an original twist of Bobby McFerrin doing Wynton Kelly’s piano part, Al Jarreau taking Miles’ trumpet, George Benson doing Cannonball Adderley, and Hendricks taking Coltrane’s line. Each vocalist adds their lyric to the instrumental lines that were played by the musicians Kind of Blue, telling the story of a sketchy bartender giving out "free booze, free blues", while performing some amazing vocal gymnastics.

3. Blue in Green

The sound on Kind of Blue owed much to Bill Evans’ piano, and that is perhaps most true for the tune "Blue in Green", widely understood to be an Evans composition despite the credit going to Miles on the album jacket. Bill Evans revisited "Blue in Green" with his trio of Scott LaFaro on bass and Paul Motian on drums for his 1959 album Portrait in Jazz (it should be pointed out that he revisited "Blue in Green" quite a few times, along with the other tunes from Kind of Blue - this is just one example of Evans’ trio doing this tune). This is a melancholy, impressionistic, and intensely beautiful piano trio version of the tune with this trio near the height of their artistic powers.

4. All Blues

Kenny Barron and Brad Mehldau performed their piano duet version of "All Blues" at the 1999 Umbria Jazz Fest. They start this version out playing fairly straightforward, sticking to the script from Kind of Blue, but they take this melody in some fairly wild and somewhat dissonant directions at times. Beautiful playing from both of these piano masters.

5. Flamenco Sketches

Eric Reed’s From My Heart, with Reed on piano, Dwayne Burno on bass, and Cecil Brooks on drums, includes Reed’s version of "Flamenco Sketches". Starting with a sensitive duet between Reed and Burno, this version captures something of the mood on the original while Reed’s always-innovative piano playing moves this version in new directions. Brooks’ drums join at about 2:00, and the melancholy mood continues. Beautiful.