Music

Miles Davis: The Complete On the Corner Sessions

Ron Hart

Columbia/Legacy completes their acclaimed metal box series championing the career of Miles Davis with a deep examination of the album that turned the jazz world on its ear hole.


Miles Davis

The Complete On the Corner Sessions

Label: Legacy
US Release Date: 2007-09-25
UK Release Date: 2007-09-29
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iTunes

For a class of music so embedded in the whole idea of thinking outside of the box, the jazz community was mighty quick to throw Miles Davis to the wolves upon the public unveiling of his “jungle sound” concept in the early '70s with his controversial 1972 acid-urban statement On the Corner.

Enraptured by the daring new sounds of black music that erupted from the Vietnam era, particularly the works of Sly Stone, James Brown and Maggot Brain-era Funkadelic, Miles saw an opportunity to expand upon that electrification of his modal style of playing he had initially conspired on In a Silent Way. This then coalesced into the realms of psychedelic rock on such late '60s masterworks as Bitches Brew and A Tribute to Jack Johnson following Davis’ discovery of the works of Jimi Hendrix thanks to ex-wife Betty Davis (whom Miles would later accuse of having an affair with the guitar legend, but that’s another story entirely). For On the Corner, however, his goal was to find a way to bring it closer to the essence of the black power movement that provided the soul of inner city life during that most crucial era for African-American culture and his electric sound closer to the classic funk style pioneered by the likes of Clinton, Brown and Stone.

However, at the same time, Miles was also turned on to the avant-artistry of the minimalist classical movement, predominantly the works of German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen and his conceptual ideas of sound looping and repetition. The introduction to this revolutionary method of creating music had opened up the floodgates in Davis’ mind to the ways by which he could contort the structure of the grooves he was digging into during his electric period.

“It was Stockhausen which so totally caught his attention,” proclaimed British arranger-composer and master cellist Paul Buckmaster, a close friend and collaborator of Miles’ who initially introduced the trumpeter to Stockhausen’s post-war forays into electronic music and tape manipulation and oversaw much of the On the Corner sessions alongside Davis. “He obtained a cassette copy of Stockhausen’s Hymnen and found that piece most intriguing. I saw, in fact, that he had that cassette in his Lamborghini Miura...”

The image of Miles speeding down the road blasting avant-garde classical music out of an expensive Italian sports car is not only a seriously cool vision, but a perfect allegory to the crux of the On the Corner antithesis. His goal was, essentially, to create experimental bump music, which drew from two incredibly disparate sources but came together beautifully when blasting out the speakers of a designer sound system. And when looking at it through an eye nostalgic for that late '60s/early '70s era, he certainly accomplished his mission, especially considering how the whole look and feel of On the Corner fits as perfectly in that pocket of time as an ostrich feather on the side of a fedora hat.

For this gorgeous six-CD box set, the final installment of Columbia/Legacy’s Grammy Award-winning metal box series commemorating Miles’ magnificent career on Columbia, gracefully succeeds in accentuating every aspect of what made On the Corner not only such a controversial piece in the Davis canon but a treasured keepsake for modern fans of early '70s psychedelic jazz as well. The gold casing features the funky cartooning of original On the Corner jacket artist Cortez “Corky” McCoy embossed in all of its multi-hued blaxploitation glory right in the center of the set, with newly etched Corky sketches in the box’s accompanying booklet. The sketches include a wild depiction of Miles as the cloven-hooved Greek god of flocks and shepherds Pan that greets you as you initially open the hardcover book, which contains wonderfully insightful liner notes and essays from producer Bob Belden, journalist Tom Terrell and the aforementioned Mr. Buckmaster.

As far as the music goes, you get nearly an entire workday’s worth of that indelible On the Corner funkadelia. The collection covers all 16 sessions for the album including the original 1972 LP, its subsequent 1974 double-disc sequels Big Fun and Get Up With It as well as 12 previously unissued tracks including, for the first time ever, the full unedited version of the album’s title track. So basically you are getting another two full hour-plus albums worth of unheard On the Corner funk here.

However, as grizzled fans of On the Corner have come to realize, if you are looking to this box to geek out over solos, be they by Miles himself or any of the myriad of players featured on these sessions which included such prominent Davis veterans as John McLaughlin, Mtume, Herbie Hancock and Jack DeJohnette, established names new to the Miles crew like Chick Corea, Billy Hart, Sonny Fortune and Lonnie Liston Smith and new lions who would rise to prominence backing up Miles through the '70s such as Pete Cosey, Reggie Lucas and young funk bassist Michael Henderson –- who Davis established as the backbone of On the Corner, look elsewhere.

On the Corner is not a virtuosic album in any way shape or form. This is tribal music, right here, for the concrete jungle. It’s ghetto music for the third eye. All of the players came together, even Miles himself, to attach themselves to the thick, funky bass of Michael Henderson like barnacles on an anchor of groove, and propel full bore into the abyss of wherever the rhythm took them. They created music that certainly wasn’t for everyone, especially the snooty jazz critics of the time who still had visions of Kind of Blue dancing in their bryl creamed heads.

If you are a fan of electric Miles and consider On the Corner one of your top five favorite Davis albums, you have hit the damn jackpot with The Complete on the Corner Sessions. However, if you don’t have the stomach for six-and-a-half hours of singular groove, unless you are a survivor of the early '90s NYC rave scene, your wisest best would be to admire this box set from afar and stick to the original issue of this challenging beauty.

8

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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