Sunday, October 21, 2007

Miles Davis – The Complete On the Corner Sessions (Sony, 2007)

This six disc boxed set tracks the 1973-75 studio recordings of Miles Davis, some of the deepest and darkest funk ever made. The music found here is much more diverse than the detractors give it credit for, drawing on rhythm and blues, avant-garde classical and world music, wrapping them all up into a cohesive and unique whole. Built around the rock solid bass grooves of Michael Henderson, the band also used a variety of percussionists to achieve its deep pocket. Despite often being unwell and exhausted during this period, Davis plays very well on these sessions. His trumpet is nimble and strong and his use of the wah pedal is subtle and interesting. His organ playing is fascinating, light years away from the traditional bluesy jazz organ, Davis often used the instrument to set up drones that added a haunting air to the music wherever it was used.
Highlights are many, particularly the tribute to Duke Ellington, “He Loved Him Madly” where Davis uses the aforementioned organ drone to ground the music in unearthly calm and guitar and flute appear and disappear in the mist. “Red China Blues” shows that the band hadn't forgotten its roots and is the earthiest performance here, right down to incorporating an amplified harmonica. The center piece of this set are the tracks that were used to make up the original On the Corner LP. “Black Satin” and “Rated X” bring together a funky streetwise groove with added percussion and east Indian elements to create a nearly hypnotic mix. Miles trumpet often sounds dry and pinched on these tracks, fitting in well where his spacey, haunted acoustic tone of the past would not.
While listening to this and the other Miles Davis boxed sets from his electric period, Teo Macero begins to emerge as an unsung hero behind the scenes. While there was certainly a method to Davis' madness in keeping the reels rolling all the time, it fell to Macero to make the final edits and get the album out the door. When On the Corner was released it was perhaps the most reviled album of Davis' career, with critics decrying “sellout!” Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. By listening to this set, it is clear that the music Miles Davis created during this period was dense, complex and way ahead of its time. Despite the high hopes it was ultimately doomed to never find a mainstream audience. Its only now that we can listen to it with fresh ears and hear the wonder of the sound this band was creating.

Complete On the Corner Sessions

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