Monday, April 25th, 2016

Miles Davis, Robert Glasper & Bilal – Ghetto Walkin’

Smooth.. tasteful… stale… kind of pleasing…


Alfred Soto: Bilal sings and means well. The track is pretty. Everybody means well on this…well, is it homage or exploitation? I can’t keep that repulsive new Miles biopic out of my mind.

Mark Sinker: Don Cheadle’s Miles Ahead I like because (for all its manifest faults as a film) it comes at the music crabwise: Davis’s own tangle of poses and stances and angers and niggly mindfucks are not aesthete-fluffed towards mere pseudo-swoons of timeless bland beauty, but somehow dug out through the composer-trumpeter’s own difficult, verbalised versions of them. Now an actor/film-maker at least knows there are things they can do that Davis maybe couldn’t — and I have to wonder if it isn’t a lot harder for a fellow musician to pull this off. A little too much practical reverent awe gets in the way, especially if, like Glasper, you were only three years old when Miles’s 80s comeback happened. This triangulates Teo Macero’s’s pioneering 60s tape-looping with its distant 90s cousins acid jazz and trip-hop, and Bilal hangs a mist of 70s soul ghosts in the air over them — which distils the gentle prettiness that was of course always there — but the hornman’s relentless testiness is dissolved into a vague haze of poetry and uplift.

Jonathan Bogart: Pretty and righteous in equal measure, but when you put Miles Davis’ name on a track, I don’t think I’m too far out of my lane to expect some goddamn horn, instead of chopped-up Chick Corea and Joe Chambers.

Josh Love: I’m trying not to hold it against this cut that Glasper could’ve picked about ten million wilder or more distinctive Miles moments to build a song upon (the fact that the Erykah Badu and KING features were sourced from Davis’ dank fusion-funk era has me giddy with anticipation). In fact, “Ghetto Walkin'” wears its subtlety well, and the cool instrumentation undergirds Bilal’s alternatingly haunting and impassioned meditations on racial inequality. Still haven’t figured out that Good Will Hunting reference though.

Brad Shoup: When I think about Miles and samples I remember that the first album of his I bought was Doo-Bop and then I black out. It sounds like Glasper augmented the riff’s electric piano, but Bilal is the focus here. He’s so quiet: not diminished, but reserved. In the second verse he’s paying explicit homage to Curtis Mayfield in the way he points his phrasing skyward. This is not ghoulish in the least, and though there’s almost no trumpet, Davis is present in the arrangement.

Maxwell Cavaseno: Personally I feel like the recent biopic about Miles Davis that Don Cheadle has produced is an insult to the man’s memory. Drug addiction as a defining characteristic is embedded, leaving it to fall to those many cliches, and the concept of a white journalist lending a helping hand is the kind of thing that would have Davis’ hoarse voice hiss ‘motherfucker‘ were he still with us. But he’s dead now, and no amount of rigor mortis allows for those who have left us to hold onto their identities, and that’s the tragedy of that film and its accompanying soundtrack single. This tribute by Robert Glasper and Bilal is fine; Bilal was always the greatest vocalist of the neo-soul movement and Glasper is serviceable in doing a little loop and effects. But his appearance at the song in original form feels like cheap totemism. The same way that we have single art that reflects earnest Basquiat emulation or Bilal drops “100 Miles & Runnin'” as a casual phrase. The collage tapestry of historical figures is little different than X Ambassador’s “Renegades” and has always been the gigantic Achilles heel of neo-soul’s historicism. Yes, these icons you’re grab-bagging from had a stature and rebellious figure, but they chose to stand as a wild break in what’s come before them. Such a dull, studious, play it safe sentiment is the very thing that would make someone like a Davis’ lip curl. But you can’t turn away the monuments to your memory when you’re already in the dirt.

Leonel Manzanares de la Rosa: Vinyl hiss and smokey beats is a setting i’m usually on board with, but i expected way more from a Miles-sampling tune. Here it feels a bit stale, despite the crisp bassline and the layered voices. It sounds pretty, but it does little justice to that colossal original

Thomas Inskeep: Robert Glasper, one of the most talented minds in jazz today, takes source material from Miles Davis, adds his own thing to it, and then smartly lets Bilal get all mid-’70s-freaky-soul on top. The past informs the future.

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