CD Review: Original Album Series: Miles Davis

CD Review: Original Album Series: Miles Davis – Tutu, Amandla, Siesta, Dingo, Doo-Bop (Warner Jazz 8122797195. From £11.46 incl. p & p. CD Review by Alison Bentley)

‘Music to me is all about styles.’- Miles Davis, in his autobiography. This tiny 5-CD box set contains Miles’ huge spirit in his last albums: three featuring his controversial funk and hip-hop, and two with film scores in other styles.

Tutu (1986) saw Marcus Miller work with Miles as bassist, multi-instrumentalist and producer. Tired of live recording with his band, Miles got Miller to put down studio tracks to be recorded over later, Miller playing most instruments and adding looped sounds and samples. Named Tutu for the S. African Anti-Apartheid Archbishop, it still has a magisterial funky quality. The trumpet is relatively low in the mix, blending in with the iconic synth tones. The emotion is muted, (Harmon-muted?) the notes are sparse and dignified. Most of the compositions are Miller’s, apart from a Scritti Politti tune (Perfect Way)- a classic Miles choice of strong pop melody, ripe for transformation. There’s a mix of funk, reggae (Don’t Lose Your Mind) and complex African rhythms (Tomaas).

Miles: ‘With Marcus I didn’t have to do much, because he knows what I like.’ The 1989 Amandla (Zulu for ‘freedom’) was their next funk collaboration. Miles had been listening to a zouk band, Kassav, and their Parisian take on Guadaloupe carnival rhythms. These grooves infuse the album- superb percussion by Don Alias and Paulinho da Costa (Big Time). Miles’ alluring solos summon up my student memories of reverentially transcribing them- and they haven’t lost their lustre. There are moving synth counter-melodies and catchphrases (Hannibal). Kenny Garrett is a significant presence throughout, his throaty sound and rugged phrasing contrasting with Miles’ ethereal tone.

Siesta (1987) is the mellow soundtrack to a surreal art film set in Madrid. It’s dedicated to Gil Evans, and recalls Miles’ album Sketches of Spain, which Evans had orchestrated. Miller and Miles use Spanish and Flamenco scales and rhythms, and the music gives a haunting mystical quality to the commercially unsuccessful film. Highlights are John Scofield’s flamenco-tinged guitar on Siesta-Kitt’s Kiss, and Earl Klugh’s guitar duetting with the achingly strident trumpet call. There are lovely, melancholy Miller arrangements, underpinned by Omar Hakim’s restless drums. Yet Miles’ tone is central; comparison with Miller’s solo albums shows how significant Miles’ presence is.

The film score Dingo (1991) has Miles collaborating with Michel Legrand, whose luscious arrangements almost recall Gil Evans. There’s a Milestones groove on Concert on the Runway, as Miles himself (in his last film role as smoke-voiced trumpeter Billy Cross) and his band arrive in the Australian outback by plane, Close Encounters-style. The locals are mesmerised, especially a young boy who later follows ‘Cross’ to Paris. There are other fine swing moments (Letter as Hero). We hear two trumpets, as the boy learns from his mentor, culminating in a fine funky Jam Session, revisiting Tutu grooves live.

Miles died before Doo-Bop (1992) could be finished. He wanted to be played on urban as well as jazz radio, and asked hip-hopper Easy Mo Bee to create studio tracks for him. The six completed pieces are richly textured, full of evocative samples, and Miles really digs in. ‘Miles in the style of the hip-hop bugle…the horn casts spells like some Witch Doctor’s voodoo,’ raps Easy Mo Bee on Fantasy– one of the two tracks where he later created beats around unused, pre-recorded Miles tunes.

This box set is pleasingly miniature, as if the original artwork has been engraved on to a grain of rice. Sleeve note addicts- I had to dig the old vinyl out of the loft to find out who was playing on which track. But it’s wonderful to have these final albums all together, and fascinating to compare them.

Categories: miscellaneous

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