A review of a contemporary improvising group and throughts on the box set of the Miles Davis Quintet at The Plugged Nickel
Shifa is an improvising trio with Rachel Musson on tenor saxophone, Pat Thomas on piano and Mark Sanders on drums. Its name is derived from the Arabic word shifa’a, which means healing. It’s a trio that has played a number of gigs in UK and recorded a live gig at Café Oto. Live In Oslo on the Brooklyn label is their second album. On the vinyl album there are two tracks, Taste, at 18.18mins, and Blas, at 15.46, but the live performance was straight through, and one should endeavour to listen to it as one single performance.
It is a very powerful performance that brings out all the excitement and variety that the best of improvised music can create. The improvisations flow in different directions, yet there is always a logic to them in the way that they create a series of arcs that gradually build up to a climax and then relax. Rachel Musson’s playing is much forceful here as compared to that on her recent duo album with Corey Mwamba What We Said When We Met, see my review here; she moves from quite jagged phrases to melodic phrases, and always seems to have a set of fresh ideas. Pat Thomas varies from providing a strong rhythmic support for Rachel to interacting with her in a kind of call and response process. Mark Sanders provides an always unpredictable set of rhythmic variations that are just right for this trio.
Miles Davis Quintet: Live At The Plugged Nickel (December 1965)
I have owned this box set since it was first issued and have dipped into it on occasion, but never played all seven Cds (actually eight as Disc 2 is presented as a double album) straight through one after the other. This period of isolation has provided the opportunity to listen to the Cds in order each day over the past week. It has been a fascinating experience.
The quintet is the second great Miles Davis Quintet with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams and they are on great form. Miles and Wayne are on top form and their creativity is simply amazing. It’s fascinating how they focus each night on a well-established repertoire of material from American songbook, e.g. I Fall In Love Too Easily, which is played five times over the two evenings, or Autumn Leaves, played three times, and up tempo numbers such as No Blues or Walkin’, and manage to do something different with them on each occasion. This is particularly the case with Miles and Wayne, but Herbie less so. He plays well, but his solos strike me as being less creative than the others; he is, however, brilliant backing Miles’ solos by filling in the pauses. This reaction of mine may be because he is a little low in the sound mix, or possibly because on those two days he couldn’t match the creativity of Miles and Wayne. They always solo in the order Miles, Wayne, Herbie and his solos do come as a bit of an anti-climax. Perhaps others disagree, and perhaps in another setting they would come across as excellent solos.
Ron Carter is brilliant throughout providing the strong rhythmic support essential to the group and Tony Williams provides the cross-rhythms that help to make the music so exciting.
Also fascinating is the fact that the quintet plays three sets of about an hour each on the first night and four sets of a similar length on the second. The US club scene was demanding in those days!
I strongly recommend this as an activity appropriate for this period. Or, in fact, for any other period!