There was a special aura of excitement surrounding the festival this year -- the return of veteran trumpeter Miles Davis to the music scene after five years of silence, or so it had seemed. The truth is, however, that for the past two years Miles had actually been laying down tracks for a new album, which was released around the time of the festival. Then he chose Boston as a "warm-up" city -- a place where he could try out his new group in a club setting before he hit Avery Fisher Hall in New York on July 5.
For some of us who love and remember Miles Davis for his work with Charlie Parker in the bebop era, and then later on with John Coltrane and Gil Evans, it was hard to accept the transition he made to fusion, rock-oriented music in the late '60s. And yet, one had to admire the man for his inventiveness, his willingness to pursue change and expand his creative capacities. Those who heard Miles at these historic performances in Boston or at the final concert of the New York Jazz Festival heard a sound similar to the one he left us with when he dropped out of the scene five years ago. Similar in the sense that it is an electric group: Boston guitarist Mike Stern, an accomplished and energetic player, is firmly rooted in the rock style, and yet he, bassist Marcus Miller, and saxonphonist Bill Evans are all capable of playing swing, as they demonstrated in Boston. Unfortunately, the New York concert consisted of a single short set, to the certaind disappointment of Davis fans.
Known for his aloof, standoffish manner on the bandstand (he was famous for turning his back on the audience), there seemed to be a change in Miles Davis -- he seemed relaxed and happy, and flashed more than a few smiles at his band members, and even one or two at the audience. There was considerable embracing on the stage at the end of his set the night I saw him in Boston. After all, this was an event. And the Miles Davis sound is still intact. He'll always be a mood player, no matter what the context. One hopes that Davis, ever the musical ground-breaker, will continue to be just that.