Jimi Meets Miles
One of the most interesting releases of 2019 is Jimi Meets Miles by UK guitarist Benny Sutton.
This album is an instant classic, appealing to both fans of Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis alike. It has already gained more plays on YouTube than any guitar based instrumental music could reasonably expect, 150K for one track. It's unique, innovative, and highly improvised.
The intriguing concept of this album is what it would it would have sounded like had Jazz and Rock giants Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis jammed together.
It is a very articulate effort at creating some highly energy and improvised sessions that Jimi and Miles would have produced. This album reminds us just how good Jazz Fusion was as a genre.
Assumptions have been made, for example that both Miles and Jimi would have evolved, so don't expect the obvious. Artistic license has been exercised, the band sound is more based on the Miles Davis band of the 80's and 90's. And why not? That band featured bass legend Marcus Miller!
Ben Sutton attacks Jimi's guitar parts intelligently, not playing Jimi's licks note for note, rather getting in the zone and riding it. It all feels recognisably Jimi and quite often sounds like the man himself could have played it. At times psychedelic, the blend of Miles and Jimi works perfectly to take you to a place no other concept could.
Another impressive innovation is the virtual trumpet, it's accurate in both in Miles' tone and style. Amazingly Ben Sutton wrote these parts and played them into MIDI using a keyboard synthesiser.
You may come to this album primarily as a Jimi fan and you will not be disappointed. However, if you're not already familiar with Miles Davis, this will hopefully encourage you to explore his work. Miles was every bit the magician Jimi was. Both were so out in the stratosphere as musicians - and as forces of nature!
The two of them together would have produced fireworks and this album has high energy, improvisation, and interplay in abundance. The album is balanced in that both Jimi and Miles tracks are attempted, each getting a hint of how the other would have contributed.
Other musicians include top UK Jazz Session Bassist Steve Shone, catch his explosive bass solo on track one If 6 were 9. On drums is international hired gun Graham Argent given free rein, his free form style very reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell.
Ben Sutton is probably the best guitarist you've never heard of. Well OK, now you have, so check out his other work on his YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1kBY_eIU2_S37SpYkcfuyg
Altogether a joy to listen to!
The first track on the album, Right Off is one you can really get your teeth into. It is jump started by some wild guitar feedback pyrotechnics that could easily be the man himself. It then launches into an eleven-minute Jam at breakneck pace.
Hendrix lovers will not be familiar with this track. Right Off is a Miles Davis track that was recorded eight months before Jimi's death, so he could have heard it. The original was a spontaneous jam between McLaughlin and Billy Cobham in a New York studio in Feb 1970. Miles walked in by chance and simply joined in. Fate could easily have placed Jimi at the heart of it too. That's kind of the whole point of the album, had the stars up above played with laughing Sam's dice.
I love this track because it goes somewhere no one else has gone, before or since! It's a journey into a very psychedelic place. Right Off is a long track but extended improvised jams were standard in both rock and jazz back then. Characterised by a wall of cymbals and insistent bass line the rhythm section motors along creating an ideal vehicle for a virtual Miles and Jimi to improvise over.
If Six Were Nine is a reboot of the classic Hendrix hippy statement. It's tighter, more spacy, yet true to the vibe. Arguably Miles Davis greatest gift was that he could play on any style, any genre and his muted trumpet is completely at home here. Some classic Hendrix guitar tones, especially his over the top, swirling phased sound are faithfully recreated. Jimi never had a bass solo on record, but this track has a great one at three minutes in that really works, by ace bassist Steve Shone.
All along the Watchtower is the classic Dylan track Hendrix made his own. Benny Sutton puts his own stamp on it. Do you recognise the bassline it starts with? It's almost Michael Jackson's Billie Jean and it is perfect to drive it. Some artistic licence is exercised here when it dives into some very modern Daft Punk, alternates classic Jimi and Miles, ending with the only vocal on the album.
Hey Joe is probably the most accurate Jimi style lead guitar on the album, bluesy Pentatonic runs, two and three note trills. No screaming Marshall 100W stacks, it's dialled back in intensity and volume to hit the sweet spot. The track's arrangement starts in familiar territory before slipping into some spacey jamming. Another high point of the album.
Voodoo Chilled is a leap from the hard rock guitar classic, Voodoo Chile, into psychedelic jazz fusion and beyond. Weaving through spacey free form soundscape punctuated by mournful modal horn the track is finally ripped into a scorching Jimi style guitar solo over an old school, three-piece rock band. This track features top gun bassist Steve Shone who transitions from almost Jaco Pastorius phrased fretless jazz bass to heavy, heavy rock without blinking.
Big Time is an 80's Miles/Marcus Miller track that stays in character. There are some awesome guitar effects on the solo. Miles and Jimi interplay with a question and answer segment that, hey we know it's not real, but it does humanise the improvisation.
Fired features a scorching Miles horn solo before the guitar takes hold with some classic hard rock Jimi racing a breakneck speed.
Tutu is another 80's Miles/Marcus Miller track, from the album of the same name.
Let's not forget Jimi's highly stylised rhythm guitar. It was highly nuanced. Two tracks in particular, Little Wing and Castles made of Sand demonstrate the techniques perfectly. Ben's versions keep that style which comprised a multifaceted mix of open-string and thumb voicings, double-stops, and chord partials. Jimi added complexity, his right hand using plectrum and second finger, as busy as a folk music finger picker.
Third Stone From the Sun was Jimi's psychedelic masterpiece.
In a Silent Way is arguably Miles Davis's greatest chill out piece. Jimi could carry a tune, as proven by his rendition of "Star Spangled Banner". The melody to "In a Silent Way" is a lot tougher than that, mainly because it is slow and stops/starts throughout. No doubt Jimi would have nailed it.
Foxy Ladies starts with an archetypal Hendrix style riff built on the 'Hendrix chord'* but soon flies off into the stratosphere. It's basically one lengthy improvisation that ebbs and flows in intensity, slipping in and out of R&B, Jazz, and Fusion genres effortlessly.
Purple Hazed is a very late 80's version, quite some departure from the original Purple Haze. It's laid back and funky, but then it's a safe bet that Jimi would have embraced funk (he already was funky). He'd be slapping and a snappin' like bass guitarists. Miles VST takes a back seat on this one which is altogether restrained. It conforms to the verse/chorus format rather than the outright jams of some of the other tracks.
The Miles classic So What gets a new lease of life with a synth bass line. This is the only track with real, not virtual, trumpet on, provided by Jordy Waelauruw. There's a nice Hendrix style rhythm guitar solo but, to be honest, the lead guitar on this doesn't sound remotely Jimi - but is fun, nevertheless.
*(the dominant seventh sharp ninth) that has become so associated with Jimi's sound.
There are guitar pedal sounds on my pastiche that weren't available at the time - but you must allow some artistic licence