DSC03962I guess you could say I’ve got an affliction. It’s something I can’t seem to get over, and to be honest I don’t want to get over it. You see, I’m in the midst of a Miles Davis binge. It’s more than a binge, though. It seems more like an absolute electric Miles infestation of my brain. It started a couple weeks ago when I bought his Pangaea album in Chicago. From there, I’d realized there was a good 7 years of his music that I hadn’t really delved into. Bitches Brew, On The Corner, A Tribute To Jack Johnson, and Dark Magus had been jumped into head first by me and they became favorites. But Pangaea opened my eyes to an experimental side of Davis I never knew existed. Pangaea, plus its sister album Agharta, as well as Big Fun, Filles de Kilimanjaro before them were hours of music that seemed to be some portal into another universe. A universe filled with funky breakbeats, strange melodies, and spaced-out explorations into the headspace of a truly far out musician and, well, artist. It suddenly became my mission to own these albums. Own them, I say!

So that’s what I’ve begun to do. This week Big Fun and A Tribute To Jack Johnson arrived from other regions of the universe(out east, I think.) I’ll give you my generic take on them, okay? Good.

First is A Tribute To Jack Johnson. This album is music Miles came up with for a documentary about the black boxer Jack Johnson. I really don’t know much about him, other than he loved white women, fine threads, and fast cars. Or maybe it was fine women, fast threads, and white cars. Nah, I bet it was fast women and fine cars…and white, umm….well as you can see I know little about the boxer. But if the soundtrack Davis came up with is any indication, he had a hell of a strut in the ring as well. This album consists of two songs, one on each side. Side A is “Right Off” and side b is “Yesternow”. This record is John McLaughlin’s shining moment. Sure he did plenty to propel Bitches Brew into the stratosphere, but ‘Jack Johnson’ is McLaughlin cutting loose and showing a loose and gritty side to his playing he hid most of the time behind fluid fusion runs and 9th flat augmented chords in Mahavishnu Orchestra. Davis made this soundtrack to breathe and groove, and(at gunpoint?) McLaughlin listened to his boss and did just that. “Right Off” is a bluesy number that jams. Jams as in locks into a rhythm and doesn’t let go for 20 minutes. “Yesternow” keeps the loose vibe going, with some great bass work by Michael Henderson. It’s more of an introspective track. All in all, this is a classic mix of jazz improvisation and Davis’ step towards funk and rock domination and exploration that he would jump into trumpet first throughout the first half of the 70s.

Big Fun on the other hand consists of tracks Davis recorded between 1969 and 1972. Tracks that would’ve been very at home on Bitches Brew and Filles de Kilimanjaro. “Great Expectations” is heavily influenced by Indian music. Sitar plays heavy on this expansive track. Four tracks fill two records here. “Great Expectations” and “Ife” fill up sides A and B, while “Go Ahead John” and “Lonely Fire” fill up sides C and D. I have to say that Big Fun is quickly becoming one of my favorite Miles Davis albums. It’s like the soundtrack to some space age noir film. “Ife” especially is a hell of a mind-altering aural trip. Funky beats, odd noises come in and out, and the bass once again plays heavily into the song. It’s 20 minutes to just get kinda freaky to. “Go Ahead John” does this thing where the drums really don’t keep the beat, they instead jump from side to side with wild explosions of noise while the bass anchors the track and gives it the flow it needs, all the while the “John” in question, Mr. John McLaughlin, lays down some mean guitar once more. This record is almost the complete opposite of ‘Jack Johnson’. It’s this heady, dense, wild trip. It’s an acid-tinged rock album that just so happens to be Miles Davis and not Jimi Hendrix.

Miles Davis was heavily influenced by what Jimi Hendrix was doing in the late 60s. So much so that there was talk of a collaboration between the two titans of musical innovation. Of course, this union never happened, though Hendrix’ legacy lives on with Davis through those 70s records. Davis never got to play and create with Jimi, but he had the next best guy: Pete Cosey. Cosey had the fire and funk that Hendrix possessed and was the perfect surrogate to help push Davis into the rock and fusion territory he made his home in the 70s. McLaughlin started the phase and Cosey finished it. Listening to these two records, as well as Dark Magus, Pangaea, and Agharta I wonder what a collaboration between Davis and Hendrix would’ve been like. Both pushed the boundaries of their chosen musical playgrounds. Both were never satisfied unless they were moving forward, and both were entrenched in experimentalism and creating something new out of something old. I see Electric Ladyland and Bitches Brew as sister albums. Both were prime examples of what these two could do when they were inspired. A song like “Go Ahead John” to me is the closest we’ve come to what that collaboration would’ve been like. It’s groove, muscle, and sonically dense. I would have loved to hear what Teo Macero would’ve done with these two in the Columbia recording studios at 51 West 52nd Street, New York, New York. Macero was Davis’ right hand. Without Macero in the lab cutting, pasting, and organizing I wouldn’t be here typing about Miles Davis right now. I’d be typing about a great pair of jeans I own. Or the plight of Mormons in interstellar space or something. Davis, Hendrix, and Macero: a dream team. At least my dream team.

Thanks for coming by. Time to flip a record.

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About the Author jhubner73

This is where I drop the spat and spittle, the sentimental fat and drivel... Music and such, and maybe a word or two about a word or two. Midwest point-of-view, without all that religion and gun stuff. Intellectually unintellectual. Elitist for the pizza and beer crowd. Grab a bean bag and lounge in the basment for a while, won't you?

10 comments

  1. The real link between Hendrix and Miles being Betty Davis, a real fave of mine. If you haven’t already grab a copy of his autobiography Miles (with Quincy Troupe) – brilliant book, his life was just as interesting as his music.

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  2. Miles and Jimi together? I never knew. Could the world stand that many blown minds?

    From a jazz outsider: does your Miles Davis listening feed the same place on your brain as psych or is it something else?

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    1. That’s an interesting question, both of them.

      First, I think the world could’ve handled the Hendrix/Davis collaboration, and I firmly believe we’d be in a better place because of that musical union. Secondly, I think my Davis listening does feed my head in a similar way that listening to psych does. It’s not pop music. It’s not comfort listening per say. It’s something much deeper than that, and I think psychedelic music is the same way. It gets the neurons sizzling in the brain and makes you see colors. It’s music that becomes alive. Miles Davis was making some of the most psychedelic and far out music that hit ears back then. Unfortunately, he was just seen as a jazz guy by the majority.

      Very insightful question.

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      1. Honestly, I asked less out of insight and more out of confusion. I respect Miles Davis immensely as a cultural figure, but I just don’t get his music.

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  3. At the jam session I run, we always trip out on ‘So What’ – the modal type of thing Davis did before going fusion. I imagine it’s a similar personal listening experience in regard to the above mentioned albums. Great resource J!

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    1. That’s great! Of his earlier stuff and his first great quintet era, ‘Kind of Blue’ is my favorite. “So What” is such a killer song. It’s got the groove that Davis perfected and took to new heights 10 years later.

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