Global Noize-Sly Reimagined The Music of Sly and The Family Stone
When Sly and The Family Stone hit the scene back in the late ‘60s, the world – socially, culturally and politically – was in a state of upheaval. And their music perfectly evangelized the moment. Today, we stand dangerously at the edge of a similar precipice – and that message of celebratory potential and jubilant clarity is sorely needed. With that concept squarely implanted in his mind’s eye, visionary conceptualist, producer, arranger, composer and keyboard wizard Jason Miles has created the extraordinary Sly Reimagined on the Zoho Roots label. With his groundbreaking, genre-defying borderless mothership Global Noize providing the vehicle, Miles takes on eight classic Sly Stone journeys into the wilds of a reality nearly half a century beyond their point of inception.
Nobody is more capable or qualified to take on a project like this than the Grammy-winning Miles. His groundbreaking synth programming for Miles Davis’ ‘80s masterpieces Tutu, Music from Siesta and Amandla; along with his contributions to a genre-crossing array of artists - including Luther Vandross, Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson, Ruben Blades, David Sanborn, Whitney Houston, Grover Washington Jr., The Crusaders, Chaka Khan and so many others - have led to a variety of legacy-based dedications to Marvin Gaye, Ivan Lins, Vandross, Grover…and now Sly.
Reimagined is the ideal description as the music on this CD doesn’t simply pay homage, but also defines the timelessness of the music by translating it to the forefront of musical thinking here in 2013. Global Noize – with its triumvirate of Miles, turntable master DJ Logic and vocalist Falu – is accompanied on this recording by an astonishing array of nearly two dozen musical powerhouses, including Nona Hendryx, Roberta Flack, Jay Rodriguez, Amanda Ruzza and the original Family Stone drummer Greg Errico.
The nine vocalists and seventeen instrumentalists are woven masterfully into the musical context of each piece – no contrivance, no excess, no aural gymnastics, just extraordinary musicianship, impeccable tastefulness and a relentless sense of groove. The musicians weave in and out, emerging at the always appropriate moment and then sinking back into the perfect mix. There is a visceral sense of ensemble playing, as live and cohesive as the 1968 concert performance at the Fillmore East where Jason first experienced Sly and The Family Stone, becoming forever connected to its unique musical expression. But while that group never could have existed without the foundation of James Brown, vocal groups from the Orioles through the Temptations, jubilant jazz of Louis Jordan through Mingus and Sun Ra, and all strains of Gospel and Blues, Sly Reimagined shows the influences of the post-Sly environment of P-Funk, Prince and the many explorers stimulated by Sly and The Family Stone. All cross-bred with the borderless context of the here and now at its richest.
Two songs are given dual treatments. It’s a Family Affair – both with Roberta Flack on lead vocals – receives a Groove Vibe Version and the Falu Mumbai Mix. The former a deeply grooved percussive blend with horns, voices, rhythm and DJ Logic all circling around in an infectious round-robin; the latter sparer, leaner, meaner and tinged with Eastern harmonic and rhythmic flavors that offer testimony to the sub-title. Nona Hendryx sings lead on both versions of The Same Thing. The straight-up version is an extremely funky excursion with a dark gurgle of baritone sax (courtesy Jay Rodriguez) all swaggering, staggering and lurching forward like a super-hip drunk on a fervent mission for The Funk. The Mulholland Drive Mix plows similar ground, but coupling a deep bass groove with a strong spicing of the classic tenor/organ combo tradition.
The Big Horn tenor style – this time in the hands of Ron Holloway - is also featured on Fun with a raucous solo that evokes the irresistible sound of Gene Ammons and Arnett Cobb. Surrounding it is a vividly syncopated groove kick, a passionately soulful vocal by Maya Azucena, DJ Logic’s turntable magic, a chanting chorus and lots of undiluted fun.
Maya’s vocals also take the lead on two other pieces. You Can Make It If You Try, a richly layered celebration with a distinct P-Funk feel, the funky trumpet of Ingrid Jensen, and Rodriguez updating Jr. Walker into the 21st Century. On Stand, a proudly upright and emphatic take on the anthem, Maya soars over a chorus of vocalists chanting it out in Funkadelicized Gospel jubilation. She also provides playful and expressive support for Nona Hendryx’s lead on In Time, an easy-grooved percussive jaunt stoked by rich synthesizer textures.
Global Noize regular Falu is up front on the brilliant Thank You For Talking To Me Africa – with a side trip to India via her Carnatic vocal approach. An ultra-thick body built on a saxophone choir (arrangement and all saxes by Jeff Coffin), sets a tantalizing groove that oozes like a lava flow and just keeps digging deeper and deeper and deeper into the darkest lustre of pure funk. Falu’s exotic, sinuous style is also ideal for Dreams, an appropriately ethereal and evocative soundscape built upon a pastiche of electronica that closes out this remarkable album in a most palpably emotional manner.
The presence of Jason Miles is at the core of every element of this truly remarkable album. Not only does the concept flow stem from the heart and soul of his remarkable musical vision; but also the keyboards, synthesizer and programming that comprise his instruments of aural expression permeate every moment of this music, holding it together and binding all of the parts into a most singular sensibility. Sly Reimagined is an album that can be experienced for its sheer joy, or dug into more deeply for in unlimited depth of artistic expression.