When Don Cheadle set out to assemble the creative team for last years Miles Davis biopic, “Miles Ahead”, he was very much concerned with assembling a creative team for the film that would reflect the ways in which the great trumpeter and musical conceptualist bandleader’s musical conceptions remain relevant in the 21st Century. After all, Miles was a musican who grew up with the blues, swing and bebop, and was collaborating with Prince and Easy Mo Bee in his last years. The films late ’70s setting also meant that someone like Wynton Marsalis with his more conservative outlook would be totally inappropriate. The musician Cheadle settled on for the film was pianist Robert Glasper, a jazz pianist who’s relative youth and involvement in Neo Soul and Hip Hop mark him as a successor to the musical and social values of musicians like Davis and his most famous collaborators, such as Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Michael Henderson, Mtume Heath and Reggie Lucas, and a host of others. Glasper responded with two albums, one a score of the movie, and another an album that featured modern takes and remixes of mostly unreleased Davis material. The song “Franceessence” is a song that plays underneath a tender love scene in “Miles Ahead” between Don Cheadle’s Miles Davis, and Emayatzy Corinealdi as Frances Davis. The song itself is a beautiful Fender Rhodes driven tune that in its own beautiful way harkens back to Miles ballads from albums such as “Neferetiti” and other albums in the early stages of his involvement with what would be called “fusion.”
The song begins with a beautiful downward stepping chord introduction from a lushly chorused and vibrating Fender Rhodes. The downward stepping “Call” is then responded to by the piano itself, with acoustic bass underneath, both playing a phrase that goes up an interval and comes back down. Just like that a languorous, romantic, candlelit/twilight mood is struck. In the background a sweeping, wind like effect gathers like a storm. A beautiful melody comes in, with a very complex sound playing a simple, tender melody. The melody sounds as if it’s being played by flute, flugelhorn and Rhodes together, which in itself is a very Quincy Jones like combination of sounds. After the melody makes its gentle statement, the Rhodes punches in sharp chords and a muted trumpet fills in. The next time the melody is stated the flute sound is predominant, while Glasper runs arpeggios underneath and the trumpet ornaments the phrases. The flute improvises for a while while the trumpet adds poking and pleading phrases in at sparse intervals. The short interlude plays out beautifully as a duet for muted trumpet and flute as the track floats into wonderland.
I had “Miles Ahead” on one day at my home when the love scene flashed on, and besides being enjoying the romantic maneuvers on screen I was struck by Glasper’s tune. I thought it was a Miles tune from those days I somehow missed, and it also reminded me of the early fusion ballad sound that Quincy Jones would use both in his movie scores and on his albums. I must admit I actually had to resort to the “Shazam” app to find out who made this song! Which was sad because I already had the CD from the week it came out! “Francessence” is a lovely mood tune in the tradition of electric jazz film music and another example of the versatility of Robert Glasper in composing music to suit many different occasions and eras.