Though ultimately a hagiography, Don Cheadle’s Miles Davis biopic Miles Ahead does not shy from the less savoury aspects of the jazz maverick’s personality (not for nothing was Davis dubbed “prince of darkness” by collaborators).
The accompanying soundtrack is not burdened by any such responsibility to the truth and so functions as straight ahead valentine to one of the genre’s most singular voices. For those curious about Davis but unsure where to start, the album lays out a welcome mat and invites you step inside.
Intriguingly, the Davis cuts are augmented by original pieces by Robert Glasper, a latter-day experimentalist whose compositions fuse jazz, r’n’b and hip-hop elements. Here, the immediate stand-out is ‘Gone 2015’, a hook-up with Afro-futurist rhymer Pharoahe Monch.
Intriguing in a more laid-back manner are piano-rooted Glasper instrumentals ‘Junior’s Jam’ and ‘Francessence’ (Glasper joined on the former by saxophonist Marcus Strickland and trumpeter Keyon Harrold).
Crucially, Gasper understands he is here to augment Davis’s music rather than vie with it and his material has the confidence to stand on its own feet and not pretend to be something it isn’t. Elsewhere, the soundtrack serves as a primer to Davis, encompassing standards such as ‘So What’ and ‘Seven Steps To Heaven’, with dialogue from the movie strewn throughout (mercifully the snippets are short and do not take from the momentum).
The Davis cuts encompass the sweep of his career all the way up to ‘Back Seat Betty’ from 1981. Understanding that new-comers might require spoon-feeding some of the tracks are presented in edited form, among them ‘Seven Steps to Heaven’ and ‘Nefertiti’. Purists will be aghast.
But this score is not intended as a definitive articulation of Davis’s genius. It is self-consciously a jumping off point and,by those standards, succeeds effortlessly.