June 14, 2024

milestogo.jpg (9474 bytes)Mark Ledford
“Miles 2 Go”
by Denis Naranjo

Imagine being an in-demand vocalist and multi-instrumentalist. Going solo, would you choose to play like a six-piece band, arrange acapella voices, croon soulfully with R&B/hip-hop, or improvise with jazz scat and special wordless syllables? If you’re Mark Ledford, you’re doing all of this just for starters.

Listening to “Miles 2 Go,” his new CD and Verve Forecast label debut, reveals an exhibition of grooves and melody is ripe for consumption. Indeed, the centerstage ringmaster is vocalist-arranger-producer Ledford, a Detroit-bred and classically trained stylist who’s learned how to admire and employ all things jazz, R&B, hip-hop, pop, and classical.

You’ve likely heard him backing up Pat Metheny, Jonathon Butler, Jon Hendricks, Bill Evans, Eliane Elias, Special EFX, Bobby McFerrin, and Kevin Eubanks, among others. As “Miles 2 Go,” proves, this solo profile exudes individuality, one remarkably separate from previous associations. Sampling Ledford head-on discloses a complex, vibrant, and intriguing musicology in the making.

markledford.gif (34212 bytes)Playing pocket trumpet, Ledford intones a Davis-like presence throughout, seemingly in tribute praise on “So What,” “Blue In Green,” and with urban calm on “A Toucha U.” His horn casts forward appealing shades in color and tone. As elsewhere, Ledford’s nimble handiwork with keyboards, synthesizers, drum programming, whistle, and guitar typifies his wide-angle approach, fusing harmony, melodic voicing, and a varied bag of hip rhythm structures.

“Miles (Davis) was an impetus for the project. But it was time to present Mark Ledford the artist, not just the singer. In the context of arrangements, this was my record to say who I really am vocally,” says Ledford, from home in Minneapolis, taking a break amid a 10-week world tour with the Pat Metheny Group, a gig he’s held since 1986.

His jazz neighborhood boasts heavyweights like guitarist Metheny, saxophonists Michael Brecker and Najee, drummers Lenny White and Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts, pianist Cyrus Chestnut, vibraphonist Joe Locke, bassists Victor Bailey, Darryl Jones, and Lonnie Plaxico, but to name a few. Their cadence of rhythms neatly matches up to the composer’s voiced multi-tracking and bottom-edge drum programming.

“There’s sound bites, grooves, environments, even a trip-hop element in places. So I captured aspects of each musician’s style, put the right person in the right groove, and just let them do their thing,” he says.

Electric beats underfoot, a beguiling pathos emanates through “Bye-Bye Blackbird” and “Someday My Prince Will Come.” Likewise on “Summertime,” and with Metheny’s fingering dashing nearby, Ledford imbues a tingling mood-set using a core matrix of pocket trumpet riffs, vocals, and whistling, serving up sheer melodicism atop pulsating grooves.

He vigorously reworked Eddie Harris’ “Freedom Jazz Dance” and, bowing to Mr. Davis, “Walkin (Miles 2 Go),” both fueled by Ledford’s breakneck vocalese trading solos with Brecker’s herculean tenor sax. On “U Gotta Be Crazy” a brassy arrangement and jazzy lyrics can high-step you to the dance floor.

Ledford ultimately types the “Miles 2 Go,” rhythm express as hip-bop, an amalgam of hip-hop grooves and jazz bebop. “The hip-bop movement basically mixes rhythmic cycles with a harmonic cacophony of sound. And the harmonic inventions come through the rhythm and melody together as one,” he says.

Courting guest artist’s schedules and recording opportunities when possible, Ledford spent the past two years to record 10 of the 11 tracks. He also squeezed in recording and touring time with Metheny, McFerrin, Evans, Lenny White, and Jonathon Butler.

Small potatoes for Ledford, whose ascending career began as a violin virtuoso with the Detroit Symphony Junior Orchestra, through age 11. From being musical director for Stephanie Mills, to playing trumpet in Hendrick’s band, touring with rockers Vernon Reid and Living Colour, and Steve Winwood, Ledford feels he’s only begun to tap into his estimable Berkelee School of Music (’78-82) education as a composer.

“I’m giving jazz fans, who love classics, and young fans, who enjoy rhythmic development, something to live with,” says Ledford. “I feel I’ve been on the cutting edge of this hip-bop movement. Artists like Courtney Pine, Greg Osby, Branford Marsalis, and Quincy Jones have all done something similar. But they didn’t have the gravity of melody like I did. That’s what’s gonna bring more listeners to the music. Melody has its own rhythm.”

Visit the Mark Ledford web site for more information.

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