…I thoroughly enjoyed listening to these albums.
Neil Yates (trumpet, flugelhorn, tenorhorn, valve trombone, alto sax, keyboards/synth programming, guitar, bass guitar, bass programming, flute, percussion programming, drum programming, samples, backing vocals); Dean Masser (alto sax, tenor sax, baritone sax, soprano sax, bass clarinet); Zsolt Bende (guitar)
Recorded Neil Yates’ home studio, Colwyn Bay, Wales; guitar recorded Budapest Jazz House, Hungary; saxes recorded Dean Masser home studio, Wigan, Lancashire. No recording dates
The music Miles Davis played during the last decade of his life (the 1980s/early 90s) has tended to polarise his fanbase. Some dismiss the period as an uneasy mix of pop, funk and rock, with a little jazz and blues mingled in here and there. But for others, Miles was doing what he always did – pushing at the boundaries of jazz and creating music that was exciting, moving and inspiring. British musician Neil Yates belongs to the latter group. Having first seen Miles acting in the American TV series Miami Vice, and then watching the music video of the track Tutu, Yates went out and purchased the Tutu album. “Miles Davis’ output from the 80s and 90s era is much maligned, but it was a massive part of my formative years and a huge influence on my life,” says Yates.
The result is this two-album project, which has been several years in the making. Although Yates is primarily known as a trumpet player, he is a multi-instrumentalist as the extensive list of instruments he plays on this album shows. He has previously released two albums as leader, and also played with the BBC Big Band, Johnny Dankworth Orchestra, and done a ton of session work with the likes of Alison Moyet, Robbie Williams and the Brand New Heavies.
Yates composed and arranged all the tunes on this project, played almost all the instrumentation, did the programming and sampling, and recorded almost everything in his home studio. But this is no one-person amateur production – it’s professionally played, recorded and mixed. On many tracks, Yates is joined by either saxophonist Dean Masser (who plays four types of sax plus bass clarinet) or Hungarian guitarist Zsolt Bende.
Flashbacks opening track ‘This One,’ is the only number to feature the two guest musicians. It’s a bubbling uptempo mix of funk, techno and jazz that starts with a howling sound before a scampering muted trumpet plays over a heavy techno beat – you can definitely hear the Miles influence on Yate’s tone and phrasing, but this is no mere pastiche of Miles’s sound. Yates also overdubs a mix of horns in places, including trumpet, flugelhorn and valve trombone, to harmonise or create contrapuntal lines. Dean Masser’s and Zsolt Bende add short, punchy solos on sax and guitar respectively. It’s a great start to an album that truly embodies the spirit of Miles.
‘Chimes’ is dominated by a driving electronic rhythm track and muted horn, and includes a baritone sax solo laced with reverb, and catchy motif played on a synthesiser. ‘Do What You Feel’ reminds me of Miles’s ‘Chocolate Chip’ from the album Doo-Bop, with its super-heavy backbeat, clattering rhythm track, funky bass line and darting muted horn lines (some of them doubled up). Dean Masser plays an impressive solo on alto sax. It’s one of the best tracks on the album. ‘Testarossa’ (Miles had a thing about Ferraris) starts with the sound of squealing car tyres, before settling down into a fast, tense, drum-and-bass riff. The head – played on muted horn – is a catchy earworm, and Yates also plays a meaty trombone solo.
‘It’s Not True’ is a dreamy ballad underpinned by a bass vamp, while ‘Don’t Go Too Far’ combines jazz and African music with its tight syncopated groove and sampled African vocals. ‘Three’ is a fine blend of electro, jazz and funk featuring the sound of a rich deep bass clarinet, and in places, Yates processes his trumpet sound through a wah-wah effect.
Backflash continues the musical journey with seven new tracks, from the fast furious opener, ‘Walkaround’ which reminds me of ‘Give It Up’ from the Rubberband album, to the midtempo funk of ‘Put The Next One Down,’ and from the funky ‘Camel Soup’ to atmospheric ballad ‘Things I Was Gonna Do.’ And if you want even more in a similar vein, Yates has also released two singles ‘Get Outa My Face!’ and ‘Bogus Bards and Beatboxers.’
As someone who loves the music Miles played in his final years, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to these albums. Neil Yates has done a sterling job in building on the foundations laid down by Miles in the 1980s. We’ll never know what Miles would have done next after the tentative hip-hop explorations shortly before his death in 1991, but these albums point strongly to one of the directions he might have taken.
Reviewed by George Cole
You can purchase the albums here: