Miles Davis: In Person Friday and Saturday Nights at the Blackhawk, Complete

Robert R. Calder

Miles Davis

In Person Friday and Saturday Nights at the Blackhawk, Complete

Label: Legacy
US Release Date: 2003-06-03
UK Release Date: Available as import

Sony has so vast a catalogue under the name of this man, a name dropped by pseuds but rarely my own first listening choice, I can only hesitate on the verge of an unqualified recommendation; and then hope it will be taken duly seriously. As all the CDs accompanying printed apparatus insists, Ralph Gleason's reprinted liner notes and Eddie Henderson's uncommonly interesting memoirs and commentary, this is a quite singular pair of two-hour recordings of a Miles Davis ensemble, independent of some obvious neuroses which stalked the man through the years he was famous.

I've never found out how far he did wind up repeating himself, playing the miked purple trumpet in front of or somewhere among those to me never terribly congenial ensembles he led when fit -- or almost fit enough -- at the end of everything else he'd done. There had for ages been some horror (no weaker word fits) of repeating himself, of being in any way neither fashionable nor at the forefront, whether among intelligent auditors or to a general public liable to be un- or more likely mis-informed and unduly impressed by trendy trappings. Davis in a profound sense repeated the old Jelly Roll story, and if he wasn't exactly the boaster who set himself future standards to live up to, certainly he was musically driven by some kind of superego -- through the metamorphoses his bands and music underwent. Of course he had the wherewithal of talent as well as genius to fulfil more than an imaginable number of the tyrannous challenges SuperMiles seemed continually to be setting the human being and musician. But was he ever at home?

One is led to believe that he felt and was at home on very few gigs, and mostly at San Francisco's Black Hawk. On the two evenings out of many when he was recorded there -- Friday April 21st and Saturday April 22nd 1961 -- something unique was created. I do believe that. A minor flaw of co-ordination in the otherwise exemplary production has left me uncertain whether we have here every note played for the audience from the tiny bandstand, or so nearly every note as to make no difference. The tapes made were considered as performances of items of repertoire, and choices were made sufficient to fill albums of standard size if well above any average standard of quality. The results have been well known to many for a long time.

Now, two different performances are available: I don't mean, for instance, two new performances each of one item from the Mile Davis repertoire, I mean two performances each consisting of a string of (in the other sense) performances of items from the Davis bag of the time. With less processing and indeed no need to flip to the other side of a disc when the band would still be on the stand and might already have struck up the item following what you just heard, here are two evenings restored as complete performances. There was enough fresh taped material to have filled both sides of another LP disc quite well. The reasons why this disc was never compiled (other than by a pirate quite likely obsessed by the music) include the obvious ones of repetition of repertoire and the slightly more obscure one that some choices of repertoire are at first sight a shade odd. Only: this is one of the least odd or eccentric collections of music I've encountered, and among the most refreshingly free of predictables.

Lucky you if you've the time and money to overlay an existing Davis collection with unissued items combined among ones several times out already, and to listen and re-listen to the lot. You can buy a box of four CDs, or choose between respectively Friday's and Saturday night's two-hour gig. If you do the latter, Saturday maybe wins, for its nine unissued performances. But there's the earliest track of all to bear in mind, Friday's "Oleo" with its near perfection in demonstrating how wonderfully this quintet organises, plays as a trio or quartet, or indeed a chamber ensemble playing in relation to the soloist in a concerto.

The never issued LP is by and large Saturday and is rounded off without Davis, who throughout the residence reported but only two nights recorded tended to exhaust what he had to say before the end of the evening. He left things to Wynton Kelly's piano, the brilliant drumming of Jimmy Cobb and Paul Chambers's bass-playing, on his 26th birthday that Saturday (he died aged only 34). Those liable to be alarmed by Davis's absence might ask themselves why first of all they had wanted him. It wasn't for the number of notes he played. There is an anecdote, which I believe reliable, that on one of Davis's later gigs with a band of rock musicians mostly unaware of the Black Hawk repertoire or even how to play it, the trumpeter decided to try something from that bag. Above all, he had forgotten how exhausting it could be, how enormous the demands on the spirit.

The second half of the Saturday gig begins with a previously unissued "Autumn Leaves" characteristic of a great deal of the music on all four CDs. The tune's a lovely old auntie, and well deserves to be taken out for an excursion (the musical account of which takes nearly 12 minutes) very remarkably on a beautiful Spring day. The transformation is amazing, sounding not eccentric but almost impossible in its achievement and beauty.

The following "Neo" (a theme elsewhere and at other times called "Teo") was taken for issuing in preference to Friday's, and rightly enough. The pauses, the bendings and extendings of notes, the expressive wailings prefigure some of the wilder avant-garde of years to come, what Johnny Griffin well described as "taking it out on the music". Davis does not take it out on the music, he is not loud or raucous and he integrates what is really confessional expression within a classical context. This is a kind of triumph over pain, and with the Kelly-Chambers-Cobb trio more like a Gil Evans ensemble than any mere rhythm section. Hank Mobley was a towering player, with an expressive range incorporating pre-bop Coleman Hawkins, and Stan Getz and Lee Konitz or Warne Marsh, and as far ahead as anything then, viz. Coltrane. The stunning fact is that when he is the hornman, time is time and the quartet plays close together, but when Davis is the solo horn, the overall texture loosens with no loss of pulse or swing, and time spreads. There is room for Davis's even more to happen.

I love the following "Two Bass Hit", a theme represented this once on the two nights and based very plainly on its history with Dizzy Gillespie big bands. There is nothing clever or jokey, wit and intelligence are one. After an ensemble introduction which reduces only the number of musicians playing (only five?), Mobley roars off like any big band tenor star, Cobb driving as if some Herman herd could come in any minute. In comes Davis, with a sort of dirty playing, using a prolific variety of undertones and overtones as if there were at times three trumpets. There's even a rapid-fire run in Gillespie style, and a succession of what seem like afterthoughts turns into another solo, through the closing theme of "Bye Bye" -- which has generated such tension that the half-hour slot needs Kelly to play a brief unaccompanied "Love, I've Found You" before the stand has come near enough the ground again to let the band step off for a breath.

"I Thought about You" opens the final half-hour with Davis creating more time within the pulse and swing for his statement, set off by Mobley's tenderness in a substantial solo. Such themes as "Some Day My Prince Will Come", which follows, were Davis's means of extending expressive range, important beside lessons of method worked out by Charlie Parker and George Russell. Some of Davis's pauses last for longer than a chorus, Kelly is all the more notable for a freedom from diffidence. Why shouldn't Davis have walked off the stand after solos and when the other men were playing, he was the absolute boss who trusted the music, and his musicians. There is a continuous excitement as Kelly plays in a way suggesting he's any moment now going to take over. Mobley in fact does, harmonically more in Hawkins mode, and then the Kelly solo turns out to be the challenge met by Davis's brief re-entry, leaving Kelly not to solo but wind things down. He ends the set with a trio performance of "Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise", with Chambers at times massive.

I could go on about the unissued Saturday performance of "Walkin'", where instead of the issued Friday version's hints there's an incorporation of full-blown mama's little baby boogie figures in Davis's solo, stylistically as integrated as a folk tune in Haydn. And Paul Chambers having picked up his bow has performed delightful homage to Slam Stewart. All human jazz is there.

There's no avoiding the issued "So What" with its first set anticipation of the Autumn to Spring transformation which happened a little while later. "So What" is recast first of all by Chambers playing the thematic figure as a rhythmic four note pattern with the intervening notes reduced to linking grace-notes. The pace is upped in comparison to the classic performance whose Davis solo George Russell later transcribed for ensemble in his own performances: upped, but as ever subtly. There is a relaxation which brings to mind reports of how at home Davis was in the shabby crowded Black Hawk, amid an audience, including juveniles and cut-price entry customers, with whom he felt and exercised an exceptional rapport. They all deserved this, and I'd be a boor not to commend others to feel equally and duly grateful for such music, for so much.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

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Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

The Hall of Fame has been harshly criticized for some of its more inexplicable exclusions and for neglecting certain subgenres of music. Cynicism and negativity over the Hall's selection process and membership is fairly widespread. That said, despite the controversies and legitimate gripes, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is still widely viewed as a career milestone. The Hall's stature feeds its surrounding controversies: after all, nobody would care to argue so vehemently about the merits of one artist over another if it wasn't important. Very rarely will a newly inducted artist miss the opportunity to appear at the star-studded ceremony to accept their honor.

The criteria for nomination is as follows: "Artists -- a group encompassing performers, composers and/or musicians -- become eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first commercial recording. Besides demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent, inductees will have had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock and roll." Specifically for performers, "This category honors bands or solo artists which demonstrate musical excellence. Such a descriptor includes (but isn't limited to) influence on other performers or genres; length and depth of career and catalog; stylistic innovations; or superior technique and skills."

These standards allow the selection committee wide latitude with their choices, and generating a list that would create zero controversy is an obvious impossibility. As for those deserving artists yet to be included, their time will surely come. There has purportedly been an emphasis on increasing diversity among the nominating committee and voters in recent years, and the list of contenders for the class of 2018 reflects this.

Radiohead, as expected and deserved, are nominated in their first year of eligibility, and there is little doubt they will be inducted. Other nominees include Bon Jovi, Kate Bush, the Cars, Depeche Mode, Dire Straits, Eurythmics, J. Geils Band, Judas Priest, LL Cool J, MC5, the Meters, the Moody Blues, Rage Against the Machine, Nina Simone, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Link Wray and the Zombies. It's a strong and varied group.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise on the list, however, is the British duo Eurythmics. Even though they've been eligible since 2006, this is their first nomination. Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox certainly deserve recognition for their important contributions to the musical fabric of the last 40 years. While Eurythmics have always been generally respected, they've never been darlings with the critics like some of their contemporaries. It's puzzling as to why. Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting and creative audacity. Lennox is second to noone as a vocalist, not just in her lead parts but also in the creative, often rhythmic way she uses her voice as an instrument. This nomination could boost the stature and perception of Eurythmics' body of work immeasurably.

Although Eurythmics are often consigned strictly to the synthpop genre, that designation fits only a portion of their repertoire. Each of their nine studio albums has its own unique vibe while retaining the duo's core identity. Eurythmics never repeat themselves, often taking bold risks and swerving in unexpected directions. Unlike many of their contemporaries, Eurythmics didn't "sell out" or compromise by chasing after obvious Top 40 hits. Even their most popular singles aren't commercial in the traditional sense, and they've always sounded like nobody else on the radio.

Despite the sudden emergence of their 1983 single "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" as an MTV staple and international smash, Eurythmics are far from an overnight success story. Their story begins in London, 1975, when Stewart fortuitously encountered Lennox at the restaurant where she worked as a waitress. The Scottish singer had recently dropped out of the Royal Academy of Music, which she felt didn't suit her musical interests. Stewart and Lennox strongly connected over their love of music, and they quickly became a couple who were inseparable. Along with singer/ songwriter/ guitarist Peet Coombes, Stewart and Lennox formed a short-lived group the Catch. After one failed single, they added two members and renamed themselves the Tourists.

Coombes was the dominant creative force and primary songwriter behind the Tourists. Lennox and Coombes shared vocals on the band's dour and melancholy power-pop. The Tourists released three albums and managed a handful of chart appearances in the UK. Two of their singles, a peppy cover of Dusty Springfield's "I Only Want to Be With You" and the hard-rocking "So Good T\to Be Back Home Again", made the UK Top 10. The band toured extensively, but their success was fleeting. The Tourists' third album, Luminous Basement (1980), tanked badly despite containing their strongest material yet, and the group dissolved shortly thereafter.

Lennox and Stewart also endured a painful ending to their sometimes tumultuous romance, but they recognized the power of their musical chemistry and decided to continue working together as a duo. They were a pair "who couldn't be together, and who could not be apart", as Lennox reflects many years later in the song "17 Again". History has shown that they made the right decision: Stewart and Lennox compliment each other intuitively through a shared passion for music, the thrill of experimentation, and the need for emotional release that songwriting and performing allows.

The name Eurythmics was derived from a technique used to teach music to children based on sensory and physical methods of learning rhythm. The newly-christened duo signed with RCA Records and in early 1981 headed to Germany to record their debut album with highly-respected krautrock producer Conny Plank.

Plank already had a long string of acclaimed albums to his credit, including collaborations with Neu!, Can, Ultravox, Kraftwerk and Brian Eno among others. The sessions for what would become Eurythmics' debut album, In the Garden, were held at Plank's studio in Cologne. He brought several of his regular collaborators into the proceedings, including bassist Holger Czukay and drummer Jaki Liebezeit of avant-garde rockers Can, Blondie drummer Clem Burke and D.A.F. electronics whiz Robert Görl. Stewart has described the sessions as a learning experience that helped expand his perception of what pop music could be and how it could be created without following any rules, a perspective that served Eurythmics well.

Eurythmics' austere and hypnotic debut single "Never Gonna Cry Again" was released in May 1981. They filmed a low-budget video and landed a couple TV slots to promote the track, but the song's haunted nature did not translate to mainstream success: it barely scraped the lower reaches of the UK singles chart. A second single, the dreamy guitar-rocker "Belinda", followed in August but failed to chart.

In the Garden was finally released in October 1981, but without a hit to generate momentum it was barely noticed. Despite scant sales figures, the album's gloomy psychedelic guitar-pop makes for a rather strong debut. In the Garden exists in late summer shadows, densely atmospheric and shrouded in a veil of dread. Lennox's vocals are understated, subtle and lower in the mix than on subsequent albums. Sound effects, odd vocalizations and bits of sonic experimentation fade in and out like flashes of hazily repressed memory.

RCA wasn't eager to invest in a follow-up to In the Garden after its disappointing reception, so Stewart financed Eurythmics' second album largely through a personal bank loan. Faced with a minuscule budget, they worked in a London warehouse to avoid spending money on studio time. They were able to purchase cheap second-hand equipment for the sessions, including the basic TEAC 8-track on which most of the album was recorded. Adam Williams, former bassist for the ska band the Selectors, helped the duo learn the equipment while co-producing some of their earliest tracks.

The primitive set-up was the ultimate blessing in disguise. Since they were financing the sessions and self-producing, Eurythmics had the freedom to experiment with no oversight. As both Lennox and Stewart were enduring periods of deep personal strife at the time, the sessions evolved into an emotional and creative catharsis that helped shape the mercurial nature of the music. It was out of this environment that a classic was born.

Despite appearing only a few months after their debut album, the first single to emerge from the new sessions proved radically different than any of Eurythmics' prior work. Released in April 1982, "This Is the House" is a flamboyant, horn-driven spectacle on which Lennox belts out a vocal more confident and brash than any of her prior work. The song's odd mix of synthpop, R&B; and latin influences renders it completely unique, but despite its infectious ingenuity and beguiling loopiness (or perhaps because of it), "This Is the House" failed to chart.

The follow-up single that landed two months later is even better. Entrancing and soulful, "The Walk" exudes the anxiety, drama and innovation that became Eurythmics' hallmark. The vocal arrangement is ingenious, and Dick Cuthell (known for his work with Madness, the Specials, Fun Boy Three and others) lets rip a blistering trumpet solo. As in many of their songs, "The Walk" slowly ratchets up the tension through hypnotic repetition and the gradual addition of more layers of sound until it reaches a haywire frenzy. Although a brilliant recording, "The Walk" fared no better than its predecessor.

With the duo's second album Sweet Dreams (are made of this) completed, RCA began a strong promotional push, issuing the opening track "Love Is a Stranger" as a single in November 1982. Lennox's dazzling vocal ranges from icy cool to fiery passion over a relentless electric groove bracketed by sinuous lines of synth. "Love Is a Stranger" rose to #54 in the UK, their highest placement yet, and momentum was finally building for the duo thanks in part to the single's provocative video.

The first significant chapter in a series of visually arresting promotional clips that Eurythmics generated over the span of their career, "Love Is a Stranger" showcases Lennox's dramatic presence and her innate ability to command the viewer's attention. She plays multiple roles, ending the clip with her red hair slicked back and dressed androgynously in a man's suit. Image was quickly becoming an important part of the Eurythmics' equation, with Lennox always compelling no matter which character she inhabits, and Stewart often appearing as her sort of mad-scientist counterpart.

Sweet Dreams (are made of this) hit the shelves on 4 January 1983, along with its title-track, a single that continues to reverberate through pop music nearly 35 years after its release. Suddenly everything changed for Eurythmics. An obscure British duo, barely managing to survive in the music business, soared to the top with one of the more unconventional songs ever to scale those lofty heights.

"Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" has an unusual structure, with no real verses or chorus. Lennox has described it as a mantra, and indeed it is. The lyrics, which Lennox rattled off spontaneously in a matter of minutes, are a simple but profound statement about the human condition: "Everybody's looking for something," the search for meaning and fulfillment, the ephemeral "this" of which sweet dreams are made.

Lennox begins the song with a single line of vocal, then starting with "some of them want to use you" at the 0:24 point it doubles. From there the song gradually builds intensity, with the vocals increasingly layered. A masterful finalé combines all the sonic elements before fading to black, the mantra repeating endlessly, the "this" still stubbornly undefined. The booming minor-key bass riff and the epic string-motif solo starting at 1:31 are played by Lennox on a Roland Juno-6 synthesizer. The main riff (improvised by Lennox while listening to Stewart working on a drum-machine pattern), is a simple two-bar arpeggio that loops throughout most of the song. Two parts were recorded separately and panned on opposite sides of the sound spectrum, creating a richly resonant effect. "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" is no dated relic from the early days of MTV burdened by the limitations the time. Its massive waves of synth flood out of the speakers with enormous power, as inexorably as the tide.

The music video, which became wildly popular on MTV during its heyday, is forever entwined with the song in listeners' collective consciousness. The iconic image of Lennox in her masculine suit and flaming orange flat-top helps to define the new wave era. Her forceful demeanor, nervy confidence and the subtle nuances of her facial expressions amplify the song's inherent tension. She confronts the viewer directly by pointing right in our faces at the 0:24 mark. At 1:56, she offers a sly half-smile with, "some of them want to abuse you", and at 2:15 she pounds her fist just as the song reaches its dramatic apex. Stewart appears throughout the video stoically pecking away on the drum machine he used in the recording of the song, the Movement MCS Drum Computer MK1 (except for that part where he and the cow have, well, a moment… It's all in the eye contact).

After a slow climb up the US pop chart, "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" was finally able to derail the Police's "Every Breath You Take" from its seven-week reign at the top during the week of 3 September 1983. It would be Eurythmics' only chart-topping pop hit in America, and it reached #2 in the UK. In the wake of Eurythmics' new-found fame, "Love Is a Stranger" was re-released, this time becoming a major hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

The album's deep cuts are every bit as strange and fascinating as its better-known singles. The ghostly "Jennifer" is a narcotic reverie of keyboard swells and spectral atmospherics. "I've Got an Angel" and "Somebody Told Me" are serrated neurotic fits, swerving dangerously off-the-rails from anything that would normally be considered pop music. A long and mesmerizing exploration of urban isolation, "This City Never Sleeps" is a powerful finalé. Sweet Dreams (are made of this) is an examination of the human psyche fraught with turmoil, a series of jagged recurring nightmares and anxiety attacks set to music that is soulful and experimental, melodic but eccentric, a stark electronic soundscape that bristles with horns and unexpected sonic jolts.

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