On the surface, how well Fusion for Miles: A Guitar Tribute succeeds or fails is determined by how much the listener enjoys the electric era of Miles Davis and how well substituting guitars for a trumpet works.
When undertaking a project like this, how well the guest soloists interpret the music of Miles goes a long way to establishing the viability of the overall project. Well, just like putting together an elaborate meal, if one gourmet chef is good, then ten must be better, right? Sorry, but no. Sometimes all more gives you is just....more.
Jimmy Herring tosses off some fast and funky leads on "Black Satin." Jeff Richman, the producer and arranger of the tribute, steps out for "Splatch." It's okay, but the original tune was made at a time when Davis was in decline artistically, so remaking the song doesn't noticeably advance it.
However, Eric Johnson's take on "Jean Pierre" from Davis' 1985 final studio album for Columbia gets it right. Johnson's loping, melodic guitar adequately substitutes for Miles' signature trumpet. The rhythm section of Vinnie Colaiuta on drums and Alphonso Johnson on bass locks down the groove and Larry Goldings adds some organ that enhances the jamming.
Among other standouts are "Back Seat Betty" featuring Steve Kimmock, a twitchy "Nefertiti" powered by Bill Frisell and a moody saxophone courtesy of Dave Liebman and a fiery version of "It's About that Time" by Allman Brothers Band axman Warren Haynes.
None of the other contributions from Mike Stern, Pat Martino, Bireli Lagrene and Bill Connors are bad. They just didn't shine for me the way the other selections did. For another listener it might be a different story.
Ultimately, Fusion for Miles delivers the goods, though it does take some getting used to waiting for that lonely trumpet to come in (and it never does). It just kind of reminds you how much we miss Miles.