When Half Note Records released the astounding Another Kind of Blue: The Latin Side of Miles Davis in 2004, it appeared to be a single live recording that re-interpreted Davis’ legendary album from a fresh perspective. One could have assumed that this outstanding group performed the same Kind of Blue-tinged music each night throughout its week-long engagement at The Blue Note. Now we know that that was not the case.
Herwig’s vision was broader than writing a fresh version of the music contained in Kind of Blue. With the recent release of another CD from the Herwig group’s 2003 Blue Note performance, we find that his goal was the re-appreciation of a spectrum of Davis’ legendary albums as Herwig took advantage of the venue opportunity and the availability of just the right musicians to present his original arrangements.
Much of the excitement arising from the Afro-Cuban lens that views differently Davis’ compositions derives from the ineffable spirit of the musicians, whose dedication attaches not only to the eternal value of the Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain albums, but also to the complex outreach of Latin musical forms. The combination creates a special kind of exhilaration from the recognition of cherished compositions recast in another light, revealing elements contained within Davis’ music that previously had not been perceived.
At the start of the album, as Mario Rivera’s baritone sax introduces the inviting vamp of "Solar," accentuated by Robby Ameen’s crackling drum work and Richie Flores’ energizing percussion, the audience is left wondering what song will evolve. The suspense doesn’t last long. Brian Lynch is the first to state the melody, its straightforwardness contrasting with the polyrhythmic patterns percolating beneath it. Soon, the audience receives the spirit of the music once it rises into animated solos while the tension builds throughout the song.
The surprise, perhaps, is how easily Davis’ music lends itself to clavé. For instance, the darting accents of the Davis/Victor Feldman piece, "Seven Steps to Heaven," set up the version’s infectious propulsiveness, which soon settles into a mambo. The song’s rests allow for the distinctive percussiveness that makes this nonet’s version special. But then there are the solos, the highlights of each of the tracks of Sketches of Spain Y Mas: The Latin Side of Miles Davis, as they soar and eventually draw in the audience for enthusiastic applause and shouted appreciation.
While "Solar" and "Seven Steps to Heaven" reinforce the exciting concept first heard on Another Kind of Blue, the major reason for the new CD’s being is the extended, complex, beautiful and unforgettable investigation of the legendary Miles Davis/Gil Evans collaboration, Sketches of Spain, whose rhythms and voicings are particularly amenable to Latin musical tradition. Throughout the 25-minute performance, Herwig’s group, inspired individually for years by the original recording, blends detailed knowledge of Kind of Blue with an inspired individuality of improvisation. Paquito D’Rivera’s clarinet solo on the "Concierto de Aranjuez" section especially characterizes the piece, its clarity and deeply felt emotion foreshadowing the excitement to come. That excitement ensues once Flores takes the spotlight with an invigorating conga solo that connects the more formal initial sections of the piece with the resulting drive. Lynch dares a straightforward tribute to Davis in his muted sections of the piece before declaiming with open trumpet during the passage that follows. Then pianist Edsel Gomez picks up on the contrast between formalism and abandonment of restraint by incorporating both elements in a tumultuous/quiet piano solo of dynamic extremes before the satisfying resolution, as if one were involved in the course of a dramatic story effectively told.
Sketches of Spain Y Mas concludes with "Petits Machins," as did Another Kind of Blue. On the more recent CD, Ameen and Flores break loose from the constraints of melody and harmony to exchange a rousing wordless conversation, one from drums and the other from the conga, that captures and summarizes the thrill of the music, obviously much to the audience’s approval.
Sketches of Spain Y Mas proves the point that human beings hear music in different ways, most often through the filter of their own experiences, even though the recorded music remains an objective fact. The re-invention of Miles Davis’ music by Conrad Herwig shows not only how eminently adaptable it is to various other styles, but also how universal is its appeal. One wonders how much more of Davis’ music Herwig already has arranged and how much more is already available for release, the recordings stashed somewhere awaiting release. Let’s hope that another volume of The Latin Side of Miles Davis is available soon.
Another Latin Side Of recording will be released. Herwig has moved on to interpret another jazz legend.
Flash! I just read that Conrad Herwig's nonet is appearing March 14 through 18  at The Blue Note!
Flash! I see that the group will be recording live for Half Note Records The Latin Side of Wayne Shorter!
I see that my 2004 review of Another Kind of Blue: The Latin Side of Miles Davis wished for just such a recording. http://www.jazzreview.com/cd/review-7156.html
Not to mention wishing for The Latin Side of Herbie Hancock, The Latin Side of Rahsaan Roland Kirk and The Latin Side of Duke Ellington. One wish will be fulfilled!