Music

Miles Davis: A Tribute to Jack Johnson

Robert R. Calder

Not so revolutionary as it presumed to be in 1971, the recording presents a more conservative Miles Davis paired with John McLaughlin's blues-influenced guitar, jamming on rhythms that are mainstream now.


Miles Davis

A Tribute to Jack Johnson

Label: Legacy
US Release Date: 2005-01-11
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

This set, a very full LP brought out on a single CD, was one of the series that old Miles Davis fans regarded as horrors when originally released. Their hero had turned 'electronic' and participated in an early version of fusion. Davis going over to the other side? Say it ain't so!

The liner notes state that after having ventured into jazz-rock not so long before this recording, here Davis went into rock-jazz. In terms of the balance between general rock passages and specific jazz ones, that notation is not far from the truth. The phrase jazz-rock fits mostly insofar as the introduction each of the two titles is plunged into the depth of Davis (at his best by standards applicable throughout his preceding career) and his astonishing playing is followed by mostly a lot of rock.

Davis devotees will assuredly own this music, previously issued on a five CD set which included all the sessions where much of this material was put to tape. The two included items (25-26 minutes each) were tailored into the music initially issued by Teo Macero, ace record producer and also a composer influenced by the tape-surgery of Edgard Varese (who gets called plain Edgar here, just as his pupil becomes in one prominent place Marcero[sic]).

"Right Off " filled side one of the original vinyl issue, and opens with young John McLaughlin sounding incredibly fresh and vital on bluesy rock guitar. Davis had told him to outdo himself, and McLaughlin fulfilled the request by (whether he knew it or not) emulating Freddie Green, Count Basie's inseparable rhythm guitarist: developing the music's movement by playing the same chords but with successively different and unusual fingerings.

If Davis did in a sense burn himself out over the course of his career, that's because he seemed to have kept trying to outdo himself. The eight minutes of fiery trumpet improvisation over a repeated guitar figure highlight "Right Off" as a performance futilely chasing perfection. Macero felt the necessity to insert a taped section between the end of the trumpet solo and what had followed in the jam; unfortunately the brief passage which was inserted (drawn from tapes of Davis's In a Silent Way sessions) seems over-deliberate and somewhat dated now.

What follows is a soprano saxophone solo from Steve Grossman and a lot of McLaughlin and Herbie Hancock (playing a nasally sounding electric organ), Billy Cobham at times belabouring his drums and the former Motown bass guitarist Michael Henderson working with flair and efficiency. In comparison with the Davis solo all this other input tends toward the monotonous; ingenious but not affording much by way of inspiration. It's incredible what Davis was able to do with so very little, while the rest juggle rhythmic figures and reorganise the original material.

The second title opens with McLaughlin's quietly clanging guitar and then Davis's soft, spare playing. His entry seems to have subdued the guitarist, and as the bass repeats an ostinato figure (very effective Henderson throughout) Davis solos, making use of the spatial parameters with an unusual ballad-esque finesse. His solo has a continuity of structure even more remarkable than the one on "Right Off", and it unfolds as if shrewdly planned from the opening note.

The great musicologist Heinrich Shencker writes of the ideal performance having a peak toward which it aspires and moves, and after which it has to find a way back or down. He was talking especially about symphonies, but each of the two tracks on this CD peaks with Davis's expert soloing. McLaughlin's variety of chords presents an amazing effect of treading water, circling, postponing realisation that a vamp is a vamp is a vamp. Hancock manages an interesting sound when he joins in on organ, with un-credited electronic contributions by Sonny Sharrock on the second of the two titles.

Even Hancock's efforts don't do much besides adding variety (to dispel monotony), and most of the material after the initial solo is lighter-weight business. Davis's re-entry at the end of the second track provides a tease, one that leaves listeners wanting more. Then there is a simulacrum of the sort of sound made by Gil Evans and Davis on their duly celebrated earlier sessions. It's there to bring things together, and the knot is double-tied by an announcement in the bass baritone voice of Brock Peters, celebrating the great boxer Johnson in terms of a sort of pagan pride. This recording had a connection to the documentary film from thirty years ago, whose soundtrack consisted of at least some of this music, yet the precise relationship isn't dwelt upon. It's an all right CD, but since it republishes nothing but the original vinyl album (though that ran some fifty-three minutes and there's no complaint about quantity here) it's essentially the same as an earlier reissue on what Columbia Legacy presumably would call a sister label.

7

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image