COMPOSERS: et al,Miles Davis
ALBUM TITLE: Shirley Horn
PERFORMER: Shirley Horn (v, p), Charles Ables, Ron Carter (b), Steve Williams, Al Foster (d), Roy Hargrove (t, flg), Buck Hill (ts),Toots Thielemans (harmonica)
CATALOGUE NO: 557 199-2
Seven years after Miles Davis’s death, his presence is missed more keenly than ever, and the sense of loss has resulted in an unceasing flow of musical tributes to his memory. This current album by the fine singer and pianist Shirley Horn will probably always rank as one of the most heartfelt and poignant because she and Davis were musical soulmates.
In the early Sixties, Miles Davis boosted Horn’s career by featuring her trio as the opening group during one of his residencies at the Village Vanguard; occasionally he even asked her to sit in on piano with his own quintet. In August 1990, he also played trumpet on the title track of Horn’s album You Won’t Forget Me, and this great rapport she had with him enables her to summon up his spirit so vividly that a Pentecostal flame seems to have visited all the musicians in this December 1997 recording.
Ables and Williams were in Horn’s regular trio, but they play in only four of the nine performances, because she wanted Carter and Foster, who had separately spent long periods in Miles’s bands, for some of the other performances. Toots Thielemans plays a wonderfully expressive harmonica solo, keening yet celebratory, in ‘Summertime’, and the young trumpet star Roy Hargrove conjures up Davis’s distilled essence in the ballads ‘I Fall in Love Too Easily’ and ‘Basin Street Blues’. Shirley Horn and her superb trio open and close the album with an extraordinarily affecting version of ‘My Funny Valentine’ – very slow, with poetic and sonorous piano accompaniment to her exquisitely intimate vocal; and an equally unusual and evocative version of ‘Blue in Green’ from Kind of Blue, performed as an instrumental trio except for six words sung rubato, with pauses – ‘Honey… from a horn… so sweet’ near the end.
Two of the pieces were never recorded by Davis but are here charged with his spirit – the ballad ‘This Hotel’ from the 1967 film Hotel is performed by Horn alone, and ‘I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’’, swings mightily with lovely open trumpet from Hargrove. Horn’s adaptation of Davis’s 1981 arrangement of ‘My Man’s Gone Now’ is a ten-minute-plus dynamic tour de force, using both bassists and drummers, and unleashing Hargrove’s powerful trumpet. Finally Horn repeats the line, ‘My man is dead’.