\\ Dissecting Collocutor’s version of Miles Davis’ Black Satin

Collocutor‘s upcoming Black Satin EP is in-your-face Jazz. The London based seven piece band have recorded their interpretation of the original by Miles Davis, taken from the controversial 1972 album On The Corner. The album was slammed by critics at the time due to its then-unusual fusion of rock-funk rhythms and psychedelic soundscapes. Its experimental looping—inspired by the composer Karlheinz Stockhausen—also failed to garner public appreciation. Time is a powerful thing however; it’s now viewed as having heralded hip-hop and movements in electronic music. 

Collocutor weren’t intimidated away from re-interpreting the track. The band, lead by saxophonist Tamar Osborn, features two percussionists, Magnus Mehta and Maurizio Ravalico. Together they maintain a constant, pounding rhythm throughout the piece. Osborn, Simon Finch and Mike Lesirge make up the horn section with a combination of saxophones and trumpets. They play the main melodic riff and are doubled by Suman Joshi on bass. Marco Piccioni cuts across with wailing guitar lines, and the band intermittently break off into free improvisation sections. It’s a raw, loud piece infused with a fiery groove that navigates through constantly shifting textures and varying cross-rhythms. We dissected Collocutor’s take on the track with bandleader Osborn.

\\ How did the idea for re-interpreting ‘Black Satin’ come about?

Well, Black Satin is a Miles Davis tune and we ‘Collocuterified’ it. The original version of this tune starts with tabla and a bit of Latin percussion. It melds into this other groove, with handclaps and Brazilian percussion and all sorts of things. So the original brings in influences from all sorts of places, and it’s so much in Miles’ electric period. It felt really appropriate for us with our eclectic line up. Miles Davis is a big inspiration for me and the other horn players as well. And then it’s also because it’s from the 70s electronic period. Bringing these psychedelic guitar sounds into it, which Marco’s absolutely brilliant at, just made sense to us. It’s a very loose version based on main riffs from the original, because the original was essentially a jam session as well. The idea that our trumpeter Simon suggested was to try and keep that spirit of the original by keeping it a very loose arrangement. To just play and see what happens.

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Our version isn’t a complete jam session, there are two main hooks in the tune which sort of make it recognisable as Black Satin. There’s the melodic riff and there’s the bass line. And those are the two things from the original that stand out. So we’d rehearse it, and we got a couple of little ideas. The percussionists had got some ideas for the grooves they were going to play, but there was no structure to the arrangement as such. It was like, “right, we’ve got these elements, let’s see what happens in the moment with it”. So it’s somewhere between a jam session and an arrangement.


\\ Have you re-interpreted a niche Jazz tune before?

When we first started, we had it in our live set. We played it in slightly different ways each time. There was another track by Joe Henderson called Fire from his album The Elements, which he did with Alice Coltrane. We did a version of that collaboratively with another band called emanative a while ago. That again has a couple of really recognisable bass riffs and a relatively simple melody; the rest of it is improvised. Earlier this year we did Church of Sound, and we did Yusef Lateef for the first Songbook set. But because his line up was always very stripped down, we had to rework some material to make it belong with our set up. That was a really interesting thing to do as well, to find out what the core elements of the music were. And then make it our own sound.

\\ Miles Davis once said that he was trying to reach a younger, African-American audience with ‘On the Corner’. Did you approach this with a similar thought?

Rather than trying to aim it towards anyone, it’s us having fun with something that’s more heavily groove-based. It lends itself more towards the dance floor I suppose, if there is such a thing as ‘dance floor Jazz’; that’s the strongest element of it. And we’re enjoying being part of that groove, and seeing where we can make it go. Playing something like Black Satin for us is a little moment of freedom, because working with a seven piece, it’s often quite heavily structured and composed. We can just have some fun, and it helps build the communication between the musicians.


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\\ How did you record ‘Black Satin’?

Black Satin was actually recorded at the video session, so it’s completely a live recording. We were all so happy with how it turned out, and Pete from the label just loved it. He’s been on us to record Black Satin since we played it on our first live gig. It really worked, because we’d done a few of our tunes before we did it, so we were all warmed up, and the sound guys had all the levels and everything. There was a take of it; it’s not edited at all as far as I know. There’s a slight fade in and fade out at the beginning and end, but that’s about it. It’s a live take from the video session, so we’ve got Champagne Funk and Balamii to thank for that as well.

I always try and keep the editing to a minimum with the band. So, both albums were essentially recorded live, and then if there was any editing is was sort of big chunks from a couple of different takes. We try and keep the album sound as live as possible as well.

\\ Did you come up against any difficulties or obstructions with the piece in general?

When we were recording Black Satin, it flowed quite nicely, but when we were rehearsing it we had to try out a couple of different ideas to get a groove to work—find tempos that suited us. It’s like, “let’s make this our own groove, and find a way that reflects us”. It was a little bit rehearsed in terms of just getting the general feel.

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EZH | Gail Tasker