"Saxophonist Chris Kelsey and his co-conspirators on The Electric Miles Project (guitarists Rolf Sturm and Jack DeSalvo; bassist Joe Gallant; drummer Dean Sharp) are some kind of brave and crazy. They have tackled some of the most wild-assed work of Miles Davis’ career in a manner that comes across as being both respectful and fearless – and the end result is an album that feels more like the next chapter for these tunes rather than a look-back-over-the-shoulder tribute." - Brian Robbins, Relix/Jambands.com
"(A) more modern and polystylistic set of influences than even Miles himself wielded … Few tributes take as many chances or succeed in reinventing their inspirations so successfully as this band does." - Steve Holtje, Culture Catch
"This is reckless, ill-behaved music that will forever have to justify itself to the traditional jazz purist. That said, it is also the artistic convulsion or psychotic break necessary to shake loose the 'new' so evolution may occur. In that, Kelsey captures the spirit of Davis well."- C. Michael Bailey, All About Jazz
"(Chris Kelsey) is a monster, as many already know ... There of course were some seminally monstrous saxophonists going through Miles' bands then, from Shorter, Grossman and Bartz to Liebman and Fortune, but Kelsey sounds like none of them. He is himself and it's a great thing indeed ... Recommended!" - Grego Applegate Edwards, Gapplegate Music Review
Herbie Hancock tells a story of going into the recording studio with Miles Davis, circa late-1960s, and not being able to find a piano. Confused, he asked Miles what he was supposed to play. Davis pointed at a Fender Rhodes electric piano in the corner, and said, “Play that.” The rest is history.
More than a tribute album, Chris Kelsey & What I Say: The Electric Miles Project is an original, unaffected take on Davis’s electric legacy by musicians whose early love of that music was the first step in a lifelong journey of exploration - a journey characterized by a love of jazz, sure, but more importantly, a love for the wider world of creative music, regardless of genre.
Saxophonist Chris Kelsey and the individual members of What I Say were kids when Davis first scandalized the jazz world by plugging-in. Too young and open-eared to be outraged, they were, instead, fascinated. Davis albums like In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew became crucial elements in their musical education. In the years to come, while they learned from many sources, the Miles influence remained fundamental.
It makes sense, then, that after distinguished careers playing every kind of music under the sun (leavened by more than a decade apiece working in a milieu as famously experimental and eclectic as the Downtown New York scene of the ‘80s and ‘90s), they would revisit their youthful infatuation with Miles’s electric music.
Saxophonist Chris Kelsey has spent much of the last two decades playing his own form of cutting-edge acoustic jazz. Yet his early experience playing fusion and his love for electric MIles made their mark, and in 2011, a long-contemplated Miles project hit his front burner. In forming a band to realize the music, Kelsey reached out to two old friends with whom he’d played a great deal over the years, bassist Joe Gallant and guitarist Jack DeSalvo. On drums, Kelsey chose a relatively new friend, his near-neighbor in the Hudson Valley, Dean Sharp. When Gallant suggested as second guitarist Rolf Sturm, a great sound sculptor and lead player who Kelsey knew from his work with the bassist’s Illuminati Orchestra, the lineup was set.
The nature of that lineup distinguishes What I Say from other well-known electric Miles projects, many if not most of which are all-star and/or ad-hoc aggregations. What I Say is a band; it came together organically, and comprises a group of musicians who share many years of experience in-common ... in particular, years of experience on the Downtown scene, where disregarding convention and flouting tradition was a way of life.
That lack of reverence for the tried-and-true exists alongside an openness to anything and everything, which is another thing that sets the band apart. All are superb jazz players, to be sure, but jazz is just one aspect of their art, jostling for position with rock, funk, punk, classical, r&b, blues, ambient, and virtually any other style one could name.
The organic nature of the band’s construction and diverse nature of their collective experience results in the direct, no-frills approach they bring to such Davis tunes as “Agharta Prelude,” “Ife” and “Sivad.” There’s nothing gimmicky about this music, no high concept fueling the project. At bottom, What I Say: The Electric Miles Project reveals a collection of highly simpatico and gifted improvising musicians doing their infinitely multi-faceted thing, whilst holding in mind their personal relationship to a music that in so many ways helped them become the endlessly curious, passionate, and innovative artists they are.
The finished product becomes, in part, a hint at how post-1980s jazz might have developed had it not become bogged-down with traditionalist dogma - an example of what happens when the music’s custom of incorporating the best aspects of other forms is allowed free rein, resulting in a music that more accurately reflects its own time.