Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Sly Stone turns 70 this year – and you’ll never guess where the party is: Jason Miles’ studio! The composer and super producer - whose musical heart has always been about making old school soul and jazz hip and fresh for new generations -- outfunks, outgrooves and out-rhythm and blues himself with his trippy, otherworldly and slammin’ Sly Reimagined.
Vibing with the hipsters and exotic members of his exotic jazz-fusion ensemble Global Noize (the core of which is ethereal vocalist Falu and turntable master DJ Logic)—as well as original Family Stone drummer Greg Errico, Nona Hendryx and Roberta Flack (fronting the surreal soul-jazz soundscape of “It’s A Family Affair”)—Miles creates a masterful fusion of jazz, R&B, hip-hop and funk, crazy-deep bass bottoms and ethereal dreaminess - all wrapped in a swirl of transcendent world rhythms. You should get acquainted with some of the other musicians on board too, including Maya Azucena, whose gritty soul lead vocals take “Fun,” “You Can Make It If You Try” and “Stand!” to transcendent levels; and Jay Rodriguez, whose tenor and baritone sax and flute weave purposeful soulful harmonies throughout. Falu’s dreamy, ethereal vocals infuse rich emotional urgency into the whimsical, inspirational “Dreams” and the luxurious, horn fired blues-soul of “Thank You For Talking To Me Africa,” which also includes playful ad-libs by Amy Hanaialu.
In a year where other all-star ensembles (BWB, Summer Horns featuring Dave Koz) are paying homage to legendary artists, Sly Re-imagined stands out for the way Miles repurposes the Sly classics as contemporary expressions as relevant to the modern world’s issues as the originals were to their moment of social revolution. He revamps and amps up favorites like “In Time,” “Fun,” “The Same Thing,” “You Can Make It If You Try” and “Stand!” through two very powerful cultural prisms.
First, Miles and crew draw on the influences of funk in the post Sly-heyday, including P-Funk, Prince and the hip-hop era – all musical adventurers stimulated either directly or indirectly by Sly and the Family Stone. Second, Miles’ previous legacy building tributes to artists like Marvin Gaye, Ivan Lins and Grover Washington, Jr. happened before he had formed the socially conscious world fusion outfit Global Noize. By making Sly Reimagined a Global Noize project, he injects a modern, edgy sensibility to the classic funk both sonically and in terms of connecting the social awareness of the original era with right now.
Just as Miles brought his one on one experience working with legends to his other musical homage projects, he taps into a powerful personal experience here that has driven his passion for over 40 years. In May 1968, he was in the second row of the mezzanine at the Fillmore East in New York, watching Sly and the Family Stone – all dressed in white – “hit it hard” from the get go in their opening set for Jimi Hendrix.
That kind of intimate historical perspective is rare on contemporary jazz tribute albums, but Miles continues to draw power from that seminal moment. Considering the way he and his collective chose to celebrate the master’s milestone B-day, one can only imagine (or re-imagine) Sly blowing out the candles and thinking this modern day funk masterpiece is a lot of hot fun.