Had Miles Davis not left us in 1991, he would have celebrated his 81st birthday this year. He was one of those talents, like Elvis or Johnny Cash, who left such a body of work that saying he died just doesn’t feel right somehow. You can feel his presence everywhere in modern music—more in avant hip hop and funk than anywhere else—but he’s groovin’ in the background of all things cool. He’s in the clubs, on the street, in the movies, setting the mood for urban groove. But he’s still so cool, you’re not even consciously aware of his presence. You just feel the molten flow of that trumpet when you least expect it, and remember how Miles is the pulse of jazz, even now.
Evolution of the Groove brings Miles back to Earth for too short a time. At just a little over 15 minutes, it’s more like a postcard from the nether than an actual visitation. Even at that, it affords us a glimpse of where the next phase of jazz may be headed—and it’s not in the retrograde shadings prevalent in mainstream circles.
While it’s billed as a remix, Evolution of the Groove is more a subtle reworking—bits and pieces of Miles through the decades, tidbits of revolution that still sound fresh and imposing today. The problem here (if it is a problem) is that the five tracks here are teases that flirt with us, but ultimately leave us wanting more.
Title tracks are deceiving—the opening number, “Freddy Freeloader” (from the Kind of Blue sessions) is nothing more than a minute-long montage of intro outtakes, with Miles bantering with the producer. It never goes beyond that, but serves as a segue to introduce “Freedom Jazz Dance (Evolution of the Groove).” It’s here that the EP’s concept of imagining the direction Miles’ music might have gone takes flight. Featuring a vocal by rapper Nas that pays homage to the greats of cool jazz, and augmented by the original track and a live jam, it hints at the hip hop flavor that interested Miles in his latter days. At 2:56, it whets the appetite, leaving us salivating for further exploration.