Miles Davis


by Wes Long


In 1985, the last year of his three-decade stint with Columbia Records and six years prior to his death, Miles Davis worked with Danish composer Palle Mikkelborg in Copenhagen. The project was an orchestral based living tribute to Miles and was put together for the Danish Radio Big Band large ensemble group. (You with me? It gets stranger still, read on) Palle is said to have composed the theme of the piece from 10 notes that were based on the same number of letters in Miles Davis’ name. From the 10 notes Palle derived a chord, which lead him to a theme and scale for his composition. Each movement of the work is named after one of the seven colors that Palle sees in Miles’ aura. Yeah, I don’t get it either, but if you throw all the freakish theory and garbled mystic-speak out the window the upside of this is that it’s the first time since 1963 (with Gil Evans) that Miles recorded with a full orchestra.

The first track, “Intro,” opens with the magical tone of guitar wizard John McLaughlin languidly introducing the basic 10-note theme just before it explodes in your face with staccato-fueled drums and synthesizers. When the bomb hits, sharp rhythmical shards of debris and Miles’ muted trumpet musings are impossibly combined until the projectiles settle and all is resolved. As if a thousand piece jigsaw puzzle were tossed upwards and the parts momentarily joined to create the field of wheat on the box cover before gravity enticed them to return to earth and disperse to the far corners of the living room floor. It’s easily one of the better tracks on the album, reminiscent of the hard driven funk of Decoy era Miles.

Both the free-form aggressive “Orange” and the partially dreadlocked “Blue” carry a Japanese spiced flavor reminiscent of Kazumi Watanabe’s Mobo period albums. If you don’t know Kazumi, then you should check him out. He’s a brilliant Japanese guitarist. (Think John Scofield with a sushi-beat) If you don’t know John Scofield, shame on you.

“Red” is a bit like a longer running version of Decoy’s “Robot 415,” a rippling cauldron of sound threatening to boil over. Apparently Miles liked it so much that he recorded it a second time on the album, neath the header “Electric Red.” On this second take he opts for a muted horn over an open one. The two songs are similar, but on the second Miles said of his solo “Sometimes you run out of notes, (they) just disappear and you have to play a sound.” (Uh, cool baby, just keep blowin’)

The atmospheric and lovely “Green” has a definite art-house soundtrack quality to it. This is one to listen to over the phones as you drift off to sleep. Easily the number one contender to the reigning dreamy-vibe belt holding champion, Pat Metheny’s “The Bat Part II” from his Offramp release.

“Indigo,” the only track that Miles doesn’t appear on, is one of the more effective colors in Palle’s musical pallet. It features some of the most amazing percussion work I’ve heard. This song is pure brilliance, incorporating the best of jazz and orchestration in a manner befitting the compositions of Jaco Pastorius.

This completely remastered and ever-moody masterpiece is quite possibly the last monumental effort from the late Miles Davis. Dim the lights, pour a jet-black beer into your favorite glass and get lost in the ruthlessly inventive Aura of Miles.

Topics: miles davis
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