This is a hard-to-come-by gem.
Black Dahlia is the first full-length release of original music to appear under well-known composer and arranger Bob Belden's name. It is a sweeping, ambitious work, featuring a large ensemble that includes the very finest jazz improvisers.
The project was inspired by the true story of Elizabeth Short, aka the Black Dahlia, a shadowy character whose grisly murder in 1947, at age 22, became the subject of novels by James Ellroy and John Gregory Dunne. The killing, which remains unsolved, continues to captivate the public imagination and has gained iconic significance in the history of the Los Angeles underworld of the '30s and '40s.
Belden's suite is essentially a tone poem, a musical portrayal of Elizabeth Short's life and death. In his self-penned liner notes, Belden is explicit about his major influences: the Grand Opera tradition of Puccini, Berg, and Henze, and Jerry Goldsmith's score to the 1974 film Chinatown, directed by Roman Polanski. The operatic influence is clear in Belden's use of leitmotifs: symbolic and recurring musical gestures such as the "Love Theme," the "Death Chords," and the "Black Dahlia Interval" (a minor third).
And the central musical texture used by Goldsmith in Chinatown -- lonely trumpet over a bed of strings, piano, and/or harps -- is, in fact, borrowed quite directly by Belden, on the tracks "Genesis" and "City of Angels."
Although Belden doesn't mention it, one also detects at least a conceptual similarity between Black Dahlia and Paul Simon's ill-fated musical The Capeman. Both set true stories to music, and both seek to dramatize the misdeeds and misfortunes of a social outcast.
Black Dahlia features a stunningly good band. Bassist Ira Coleman and drummer Billy Kilson provide the rhythmic foundation. Kevin Hays, Marc Copland and Scott Kinsey trade off on piano, and Belden himself plays tenor on "Dreamworld" and "Elegy."
During the course of the program there are beautiful solo statements from Tim Hagans and Lew Soloff on trumpet, Joe Lovano on tenor sax, Charles Pillowon English horn,Lawrence Feldman and Mike Migilore on alto sax, Lou Marinia on alto flute, Conrad Herwid on trombone, and Erik Friedlander on cello.Zach Danzier's bongos provide just the right Latin touch on several tracks. Two glorious subtleties: Bobby Previte's castanets on "Danza d'Amore" and David Dyson's electric bass cameo, paralleling the melody of "Dreamworld" with the woodwinds and brass.
In addition to the main soloists, there are four French horns, bass trombone, tuba, two harps, timpani, 21 violins, four violas, four cellos, and two double basses. Belden is going for maximum effect, and at times the music sounds more like a movie soundtrack than a jazz album.
Black Dahlia is very pretty stuff, if a bit dark and heavy, and because of the story aspect, it demands a beginning to end listen, more so than most albums. The main attraction for jazz buffs will be the distinctive instrumental voices of the fine players that Belden hired for the session.
David R. Adler, AllMusic
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A painting is music you can see, and music is a painting you can hear.
— Miles Davis
Man, you should hear the painting in this incredible book! But what else would you expect from Miles Davis?
One of the most influential musicians of the twentieth century, Davis was a man of many talents. Around 1980, he turned to sketching and painting to, as he explained, keep his "mind occupied with something when [he was] not playing music."
This hobby quickly turned into a serious passion, and Davis approached it with the same obsessive creativity he applied to music. The result is an impressive archive of unique and evocative visual work showcasing the varied skill of this legendary artist.
Throughout the 1980s, Davis studied regularly with New York painter Jo Gelbard, developing a distinct graphic style. Incorporating bright colors and geometric shapes, his art is reminiscent of work by Pablo Picasso as well as African tribal art, the historical influences he cited during occasional interviews on the subject.
Author Scott Gutterman sat down with Miles Davis himself before he died in 1991, and the artist's own commentary accompanies this newly published, remarkable showcase of his work.
Sadly, very few of his pieces were exhibited during Miles Davis's lifetime. Over the last two decades, the Estate of Miles Davis has worked with gallery owners and private parties to assemble a comprehensive collection of the musician's artwork.
Many celebrities are among the most adamant collectors, including Quincy Jones, who offers the Foreword to the book. Davis' daughter, Cheryl writer the Afterward.
In November, the City of Los Angeles presented members of Davis' family with a proclamation in recognition of Miles Davis: The Collected Artwork.
This long-overdue celebration is a treasure for art lovers as well as music aficionados who will appreciate the window into the life of this creative genius.
Listen to this great Tavis Smiley interview with Miles son, Erin, and his nephew, Vincent Wilburn, Jr. about Miles Davis: The Collected Artwork.
So. Very. Cool!
Be sure to scroll to the very bottom of this page and check out the review by James Neel, composer, musician, graduate of the University of North Texas' famous jazz school and a true Milesophile. Just a taste: "Over two hundred pages of gorgeous art, art, art, push Miles Davis further up and beyond his legendary perch overlooking his peers...The pages sing. They are structured improvisations."
Quincy Jones is an American record producer, conductor, arranger, film composer, television producer, and trumpeter. He lives in Los Angeles.
Vince Wilburn, Jr. is the nephew of Miles Davis. He lives in Los Angeles. Erin Davis is Miles Davis' son and Cheryl Davis is Miles Davis' daughter. They live in Los Angeles and Henderson, NV, respectively.
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