Reviews

Miles Davis: That's What Happened, Live in Germany 1987

A bleak 1987 concert by Miles Davis, reminding us that the '80s (and certain legends) are best forgotten.


Miles Davis

That's What Happened, Live in Germany 1987

Label: Eagle Rock Entertainment
US Release Date: 2009-04-28
UK Release Date: Import
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When the word went out across the music community that Miles Davis was coming out of retirement—this was 1981—the effect was electric. When? Who is he going to play with? What do you think he's up to these days? How will Miles change music this time?

He debuted at a club in Boston and then at Alice Tully Hall in New York. We all had to be there, and we were firmly excited about it at the time. But soon enough music fans started to whisper to each other: Miles' band is not so great. Miles sometimes sounds good, but his range is limited. And the albums he was recording—they were not happening. Tutu was promising, a kind of synthesizer suite for a great soloist, but when the band played live ...

Here is a document of Miles band in 1987 from a concert in Munich Germany. At this point, the band no longer featured a great drummer like Al Foster (from 1981) or a versatile guitarist like John Scofield (1982-85) Kenny Garrett had remained on saxophone and flute, and the bassist Darryl Jones was as a good a funk player as you might find. But mostly the band featured here is a mushy and pre-programmed mess of synthesized pop The guitarist, Joseph "Foley" McCreary, was dull. Ricky Wellman's drums were simply in the wrong band. Adam Holzman and Robert Irving on keys may have been victims of the technology of the day, but it's not pretty. Whatever life Garrett (whose longer alto solos are the best music here), the percussionist Mino Cinelu, and Jones can muster was not enough.

When Miles started experimenting with electric instruments and rock rhythms in the late '60s and early '70s, fuddy-duddies said, "It's not jazz". But it was. It was still a brilliantly malleable music that just "swung" a different way. It breathed, it grooved, it reflected brilliant communication within the band and ultimately to and with the audience. But the 1987 band wasn't a "jazz" band in any sense. Even Miles' cover of Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time", which worked so well on record because of Davis' ingenious edit of the main melody, simply sounds like a cheesy recreation here—all bogus string pads played on keyboards that have no humanity in them.

When the band chooses to be truly funky, there is an element of integrity and joy to the music. On "New Blues", which funks against a very fast 12/8 feel, the band feels elastic and real. "Tutu" has a fantastic bass line, but the live synthesizers are death to its groove. Better is the fast funk of the opening track, where Miles gets his wish and his band sounds something like Prince.

And Miles in 1987 could still pull off an interesting (if somewhat cold) kind of jazz impressionism. "Portia", the concert's final song, is still dominated by horrible synth sounds, but the harmonies they outline are not pop harmonies, and so there is a pleasurable other-worldliness not too different from what Weather Report (that is to say, Joe Zawinul) achieved on a good tune.

Taken as a whole, however, the concert is very hard to love. Watching it on video these 22 years later, it's hard not to notice the rapt attention of the audience and to think of your own rapt attention when you got to see the legend at that point in his career. He comes on stage is an embarrassing red coat and a silly, Rick James-ish hair weave. He wanders about the stage, crouched over as he sputters out his licks, usually with the Harmon mute in, sometimes open. Everyone watches and listens because, let's be honest: we desperately wanted to see Miles Davis in concert, and we wanted to believe that it was going to great. And flashes—almost never a whole tune but maybe a minute or a phrase—were that good. But not enough.

You hear his cover of Michael Jackson's "Human Nature" today and all you can think is .. what? The truth—and I know it hurts me to admit it—is that this is just crummy smooth jazz. The real "Human Nature" by MJ himself is great Quincey Jones pop music, but it isn't exactly the best thing on Thriller. Miles' "Human Nature", is both too literal to the original and, finally, both insufficiently different and lacking the one thing that makes Jackson's version work, which is a great lead performance. In 1987, let's be very very clear, Miles Davis was a much lesser artist than Michael Jackson.

There are two special features on this DVD. A short film on Davis' painting is mostly forgettable (as is his visual art), save the moment when he tries to convince a gallery owner that his paintings should be exhibited on the floor because that's where he paints them. "I do everything ont he floor", he tells her. "I fuck on the floor, I paint on the floor". Charming.

The interview with Davis is probably the most interesting thing on the DVD. Speaking to German host, he starts repeating some of his usual answers and then veers off into odd territory. In discussing the untruths about him published in books, Miles says, "The reason that I didn't pay any mind to that kind of thing ... it was because they thought I was an accident. The white people in America are funny. They thought I woke up one morning with the blues and started playing the trumpet. But it don't go like that, and you can't explain that to them. So now they understand. I'm not an accident. Neither is Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, the people I work with."

The interviewer pays no attention to what Davis is saying, sadly, forging ahead with his pre-planned questions. At one point, Davis is talking about the pressures of playing, and he says, "To wake up every day with a smile on my face, I have to perform perfect to myself and others around. It's me and eight other people, plus my self-consciousness. Him and I, too self-conscious." Wow. Miles Davis full of doubt. Incredible.

Miles is drawing with markers as he talks. He's wearing sunglasses, leather pants, a black and white blouse. Suddenly the notion that he is incredibly insecure and trying to bury that in his personal makes great sense.

In talking about the music, he refers to James Brown, Prince, and Sly Stone as guiding his conception. He talks about collaborating with Prince in the coming year. He also talks about collaborating with some singers, Chaka Khan and Al Jarreau or Prince. But he says, "Man, if you have an idea and you don't act on it and three months go by, that idea is stale."

He also mentions that Larry Blackmun from Cameo wrote him something that is good. And that Herbie Hancock is writing something too, as well Marcus Miller. There's something sad about hearing Miles talk about collaborating with Prince and Herbie on the one hand and Al Jarreau and Larry Blackmun on the other. Miles Davis couldn't tell the difference?

Miles defends it all by pointing to the fact that, in his past, record companies didn't like Coltrane or Art Blakey. Miles dismisses "critics" and "white people", and who are you going to trust, the genius Miles Davis or some critics?

But in 2009 we know: Cameo was not Coltrane, much as we like "Word Up". The truth is, Miles in 1987 was not what he had been. It's sad to admit it if you love Miles as much as most of us do, but it's true. He'd be gone just four years later, and things were not great in '87. That's just the truth. That, alas, is what happened.

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The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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