Music From and Inspired by “Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool”

Title: Music From and Inspired by “Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool”
Artist: Miles Davis
Label: Columbia/Legacy
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: February 21, 2020


Documentarian Stanley Nelson re-introduces us to the late and great jazz trumpeter extraordinaire Miles Davis on the album Music From and Inspired by “Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool,” a Film by Stanley Nelson. Davis’ extensive music career spanned over forty years, culminating in eight Grammy Awards, over thirty Grammy nominations, over fifty albums, plus collaborations with major jazz luminaries such as Billy Eckstine, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, John Coltrane, and Wayne Shorter, among many others. Using spoken and musical selections from the Grammy-nominated soundtrack from his documentary, Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, Nelson provides a concise musical account of Davis’ evolution. Listeners have an opportunity to reflect on his seminal recordings, beginning in the late 1940s all the way to his mid-1980s comeback with Tutu (1986), while soundbites interspersed between tracks by music icons such as Herbie Hancock, Jimmy Heath, Gil Evans, Carlos Santana, and Marcus Miller further illuminate Davis’ career.

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On the Corner Live! The Music of Miles Davis

Title: On the Corner Live! The Music of Miles Davis
Artist: Various
Label: Ear Up
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: March 1, 2019


Recorded live in Nashville in 2015, On the Corner Live!: The Music of Miles Davis features five top artists reimagining the music of Davis, sans trumpet. Rather than duplicating the tracks on Davis’s 1972 jazz fusion album On the Corner, the musicians have selected various tunes from the Miles Davis catalog. The mastermind behind this project is saxophonist Jeff Coffin, who brought in Dave Leibman, soprano and tenor saxophonist on the original album and a member of Davis’s band from 1970–1974. Joining Coffin and Leibman is Nashville session musician James DaSilva on guitar, the amazing Victor Wooten on electric bass, Chris Walters on keyboards, and Chester Thompson (Weather Report, Genesis) on drums. As one might expect, this band displays some crazy synergy. Continue reading

Miles Davis & John Coltrane – The Final Tour (Bootleg Series, Vol. 6)

Davis & Coltrane
Title: The Final Tour (Bootleg Series, Vol. 6)

Artist: Miles Davis & John Coltrane

Label: Sony Legacy

Formats: CD, Digital

Release date: March 23, 2018


Other reviewers have covered in great deal various levels of speculation about how much John Coltrane did not want to be touring Europe with Miles Davis in the spring of 1960, so this review will mostly stick to the music at hand.

No matter how much or how little Coltrane wanted to be playing that music with that band in those places, he showed up and PLAYED. And played, and played; blowing wild honking runs, “sheets of sound” as his style of the time was described, for many minutes at a time. In 1960, this was something new, and the audience in Paris on March 21st of that year was not entirely amused. The Paris concert covers the first and most of the second CDs in this 4-CD set, The Final Tour. Whistles and jeers can be heard from the audience during some of Coltrane’s playing, whereas the more traditional piano solos from Wynton Kelly garner warm applause.

Aside from both shows played at the Olympia in Paris, The Final Tour includes a short set from the Tivolis Koncertsal in Copenhagen, Denmark from March 24 and the two March 22 shows at the Konserhuset in Stockholm, Sweden. At the Scandinavian shows, Coltrane is a bit more concise but no less fierce.

The main dynamic on this tour, as described in Ashley Kahn’s liner notes, was a divergence of musical style which inevitably broke up the band Davis had put together to record the classic Kind of Blue album. Alto sax man Cannonball Adderley was already out on his own, about to be become very popular as he moved toward soul-jazz with his group. Coltrane had just recorded Giant Steps, which would go on to become a classic, but at the time was new, different and not fully accepted by jazz fans. According to various accounts, Davis was booked on an all-star tour of Europe arranged by impresario Norman Granz, and convinced Coltrane to come along for one last tour. Coltrane, who may have been suffering from dental problems and wanted to focus on his own music, reluctantly agreed to play one more round of concerts with the man who had plucked him from a B-list career and brought him into the spotlight (including connecting Coltrane with Davis’s lawyer and manager, who were subsequently able to get Coltrane signed to a deal with high-profile Atlantic Records after his contract with tiny Prestige ran out).

But Coltrane wasn’t interested in playing the same old tunes the same old way. He was exploring new ideas and new sounds, and was working out how to produce as notes on his saxophone what he was hearing in his head. He explains this to Swedish radio interviewer Carl-Erik Lindgren in the last cut on Disc 4 (a fine addition by Sony Legacy, which puts Coltrane’s mood and playing on this tour in contemporary first-person perspective).

The end result is a bit of a conundrum for a reviewer. This is four discs of live performances aimed more inward among the players than outward toward an audience. Hardcore Coltrane and Davis fans are going to eat it up, but it may be too much navel-gazing for other jazz fans. The rhythm section of Kelly, Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums more than hold their own and hold it together, even during Coltrane’s most intense note-eruptions. When given some space to solo, the rhythm section members are uniformly fantastic. But the fact remains, there are minutes upon minutes of Coltrane work-shopping various sounds and note combinations, with Davis off-stage and not involved. This may be as tiresome to a modern-day jazz fan as it was to at least some audience members in Paris.

As for Davis’s playing, at times (especially in Stockholm) he is several degrees too laid back and cool. He’s seemingly unwilling sometimes to blow hard enough to produce viable and in-tune trumpet notes.

If you’re a fan of Kind of Blue, try on for size the following version of “So What.” If this way of playing the song suits you, then you’ll like the rest of the album. If it’s too fast, too drawn out and not cleanly enough played, it’s typical of these concerts and this particular group of performances won’t be to your liking.

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Criticism circa 2018, or 1960, be damned. It didn’t matter in the long run. The tour made Davis an international star and he toured Europe as a headliner after that. As for Coltrane, he went on to much bigger things too. The kind of “un-pretty” note-heavy percussive solos he was sending out into the European nights on that tour became the foundation of a new style—free-jazz—and Coltrane continued to innovate and follow his unique muse where it led him until his premature death.

Reviewed by Tom Fine


Betty Davis – The Columbia Years, 1968-69

betty davis_best of the columbia years

Title: The Columbia Years, 1968-69

Artist: Betty Davis

Label: Light In the Attic Records

Formats: CD, MP3, LP

Release date: June 30, 2016



For most of this somewhat disjointed album, soul singer Betty Mabry Davis, profiled here in a Blackgrooves review of her early 1970’s output, is heard taking first cuts at songs for a never-completed album co-produced by her then-husband Miles Davis.

The two 1969 sessions at Columbia Records’ 52nd Street, NYC Studio produced no actual master takes for a commercial release, and indeed don’t amount to enough time for a CD release. So, Light In the Attic, the Seattle reissue label that has brought Davis’s four later albums back into print for a new generation of funk fans, filled out this barrel-bottom compilation with out-takes and a single A side from Mabry’s earlier session at Columbia’s Hollywood studio. That session, produced by her then-boyfriend Hugh Masekela, resulted in one single, which didn’t chart and faded into obscurity.

Davis got another try at the music business when she relocated to NYC, fell in with Jimi Hendrix’s and Sly Stone’s entourages (and in fact wrote music for Stone, and later for The Crusaders), and caught the eye of Miles Davis. Betty and Miles Davis were married for one turbulent year, but she helped effect a major change in the jazz icon’s music, by introducing him to Hendrix’s blues-rock and Stone’s hard-funk, among other “younger” music styles percolating around New York and California in the late ‘60s. Miles’ reaction was to scrap traditional jazz and move into a new electrified, rock-influenced direction that came to be called “fusion jazz.” Miles’ most well-known achievement in this style was the album Bitches Brew, the title of which was suggested by Betty Davis. To be fair, Miles evolved his style throughout the “electric period,” and the fantastic album In A Silent Way pre-dated Bitches Brew, so the Betty Davis “influence-creation” story is probably somewhat overblown. But her influence on Miles was no doubt strong, as he admitted in his autobiography.

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Turning back to this new-old CD, Light In the Attic has re-explored the circumstances of the single musical collaboration between Betty and Miles Davis, during the time of their brief marriage. The booklet well documents the sessions, and includes interviews with Davis, Masekela and bassist Harvey Brooks. Also shown are reproductions of Columbia internal memos showing Miles Davis’s producer, Teo Macero, who co-produced the Betty Davis sessions, urging other executives to renew Betty’s contract. Columbia never did re-sign her, and thus the album was never completed.

Net-net, the New York sessions are rough and incomplete, but the makings of an album were emerging. Betty Davis was backed by Hendrix’s drummer and bassist, Mitch Mitchell and Billy Cox, along with a host of jazz greats who were in the Miles Davis orbit: Herbie Hancock, John McLaughlin, Wayne Shorter, Larry Young, and Brooks. The playing on the four songs that survive in complete takes from the New York sessions is at the level of these musicians, in other words excellent, when they can find a groove. Then there’s the issue of Betty Davis’s voice getting in that groove. When it happens, more in some songs than others, it’s clear that this group could have made a very interesting funk-jazz album. The problem is, there wasn’t enough time to get locked in all the time, get enough songs completed, and otherwise polish and finish a commercial album.

As for the Hollywood session, we hear on this album the A side of Mabry’s one Columbia single, “Live, Love, Learn,” a somewhat sappy pop-soul ballad that didn’t click with an audience. The better stuff out of Hollywood is the previously-unreleased material: an alternate take of the single’s B side, “It’s My Life” (with a killer Masekela horn arrangement), and the straight-ahead Motown-esque “My Soul Is Tired.”

This album ties up some loose ends with Light In The Attic’s Betty Davis project, but it’s probably not worth the casual fan’s time or money. The New York material was not released because it was not finished. The Hollywood material is of a failed attempt at a breakthrough, but “It’s My Life” is a neat late-1960s soul-pop scorcher (why wasn’t it the A side of the single?). Betty Davis’s best music came later.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

Miles Davis & Robert Glasper – Everything’s Beautiful


Title: Everything’s Beautiful

Artist: Miles Davis & Robert Glasper

Label: Columbia/Legacy

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release Date: May 27, 2016



Miles Davis is something of a musical Mona Lisa: iconic, innovative, and—despite being well-documented—open to as many possible interpretations as there are interpreters.  This is likely in equal parts due to Davis’s ever-shifting musical approach as well as his cryptic and often ambiguous utterances.  Everything’s Beautiful must be read as one of many possible ways to interpret Davis’s music, perhaps usefully construed as paying tribute to Miles the innovator.  It is no accident that this tribute is led by an innovator in the contemporary jazz scene, Robert Glasper, who alternates between albums with his electric/electronic and acoustic groups, bringing hip hop and jazz with him along the way.  Each of the album’s 12 cuts, with the exception of the first track, features a guest artist; each of these artists presents a unique take on Miles that is filtered through Glasper’s electronic neo-soul jazz fusion, with heavy sampling from Davis’s large body of recorded work, including both the trumpeter’s music and voice.

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As the album’s cover art, created by Francine Turk based upon Miles’s own artwork suggests (and tinged with the heavy influence of Basquiat), Everything’s Beautiful is largely an impressionistic effort.  While its songs are built around Miles samples, it is often difficult to tell where samples end and new material begins.  Tribute albums often consist predominantly of cover versions of key tracks from the original artist’s repertoire.  However, Everything’s Beautiful features a starkly different approach—the closest thing to a cover on Everything’s Beautiful is Georgia Anne Muldrow’s reading of “Miles Ahead,” an electronic reimagining of the iconic tune that features Glasper’s only piano solo on the disc. Much of the record depends on creative sampling—rather than grabbing a tune’s hook (a la US3’s “Cantaloop”), Glasper and company pick small bits and pieces to construct their new tracks.  “I’m Leaving You,” for instance, is punctuated by a sample of Miles saying “Wait a Minute” atop a Lenny White drum pattern.  John Scofield (a Davis band alum) grooves and solos on the funky track while Ledisi lays down R&B inflected vocals.  This sampling technique also informs the album’s opener, “Talking Shit,” on which Glasper and company lay down instrumental grooves combined with a sample of Davis talking about playing, likely recorded in the studio between takes.

The album is chock full of other superstar guests—Bilal appears on “Ghetto Walkin’”, Illa J (J-Dilla’s younger brother, who Glasper knew from his days hanging out at Dilla’s house with Kareem Wiggins and) lends vocals to “They Can’t Hold Me Down,” Eyrkah Badu sings on “Maiysha (So Long)” and even Stevie Wonder makes an appearance, playing harmonica on the instrumental “Right on Brother.” Each of these cuts reflects the featured artists’ as well as Glasper’s interpretation of Davis’s legacy, lending broad room for experimentation in hip hop, funk, soul, R&B, and jazz, as the individual collaborator sees fit.

What this album lacks in cohesiveness or definition it makes up for in droves with experimentation.  Everything’s Beautiful draws upon Miles Davis the innovator, using the trumpeter’s words and music as a springboard for new sounds and approaches, solidifying jazz and hip hop through Glasper’s tasteful neo-soul production. I must emphasize that there is nothing definitive about this album—it is certainly not the final word on the trumpeter’s musical legacy and represents only one part of Miles.  But the adventurousness that these artists purvey is certainly a fitting tribute to a musician who was on the vanguard of all of the major jazz movements during his lifetime.


Reviewed by Matthew Alley

Miles Davis, Robert Glasper, Don Cheadle – Miles Ahead: Original Soundtrack Recording

miles ahead

Title: Miles Ahead – Original Soundtrack Recording

Artist: Miles Davis, Robert Glasper, Don Cheadle

Label: Sony Legacy

Format: CD

Release Date: 4/1/16


Don Cheadle’s new movie is what amounts to a fictional bio-pic about Miles Davis, with parts of the portrayed biography being real but the central action of the movie being a creation of Cheadle’s imagination. In short, it takes a real person, Miles Davis, and elements of his real life, as portrayed by Cheadle, and sets in motion a series of incidents that never actually happened.

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Given that setup, it’s not surprising that the soundtrack recording features snippets of Don Cheadle portraying Miles Davis between cuts of actual Davis recordings and additional music by jazz-hip hop artist Robert Glasper.

What is surprising, though, is that it works pretty well. There are only three complete cuts from Miles Davis’s albums: “Miles Ahead” from the 1953 Prestige compilation Blue Haze, “So What” from the 1959 Columbia classic Kind of Blue, and “Frelon Brun” from the 1969 Columbia album Filles de Kilimanjaro. The other seven Davis tunes are either edits or cuts, but offer a good flavor of the depth and breadth of Davis’s music. The Glasper cuts are Davis-esque, as are Cheadle’s spoken interludes.

Like the movie, the soundtrack album is an exploration of one man’s (Cheadle’s) ideas about another man (Davis). There are other views of Davis and his life, including his own autobiography, Miles. Keep in mind, Cheadle’s movie is a series of fictional events, and this soundtrack was created in service to that movie.

Although Sony’s press release suggests this album might be a good introduction to the music of Miles Davis, I highly recommend seeking out the original albums. Aside from the three cited above, check out the other sources of edited/excerpted cuts: Sketches of Spain, Seven Steps To Heaven, Nefertiti, Jack Johnson, On the Corner and Agharta.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

From the Heart

Legacy Recordings has launched a new From the Heart series this month to coincide with Valentine’s Day and Black History Month. Like the previous Beautiful Ballad series released in February of 2007 and 2008, each From the Heart compilation features classic R&B and jazz ballads that have been digitally remastered and come with gift tags affixed to the jewel case.  Among the nine featured artists are Babyface, Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, the Isley Brothers, and Etta James (Frank Sinatra, Air Supply, and Dolly Parton discs are also available).

Of course we have to kick this off with Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, since he’s an Indiana native (his brother was once a member of IU’s Soul Revue). Babyface was one of the masters of the romantic ballad in the ’80s, and this compilation draws strongly from his early work on the Solar and Epic labels. Included among the chart topping hits is his cover of the Stylistic’s “You Make Me Feel Brand New,” along with a good representation of his original songs, such as “Whip Appeal,” “When Can I See You?”, “Never Keeping Secrets,”and “Everytime I Close My Eyes.” The most recent material is drawn from his 1996 album The Day, including “This Is For the Lover In You,” featuring LL Cool J.

If you’d prefer instrumental ballads, the Miles Davis CD offers them in abundance. As one might expect, selections include “My Funny Valentine” (a rare live version from 1965), “Stella by Starlight” (1958, with Coltrane, Adderly and Evans), and the Gershwin favorites “I Loves You Porgy” and “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” from Porgy and Bess arrangements by Gil Evans. The one rather unexpected track is Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” which Miles turned into a jazz standard in this 1985 version.

Given all of the attention on Etta James lately, its no wonder that Legacy chose to dust off some of her masters. Most of the tracks are from recordings she made in the last couple of decades, and focus more on jazz than R&B.  If you’re not overly familiar with James, the compilation does show off her versatility.  The CD opens with her first big hit “At Last,” which of course was recently covered by Beyonce in the film Cadillac Records and at one of the inaugural balls (and no doubt will be heard ad nauseam on this season of American Idol).  There is a definite focus on the Great American Songbook, including “My Funny Valentine,” “The Man I Love,” “Night and Day,” and “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” but her R&B side is not completely ignored. Cover versions of Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” and Brook Benton’s “I’ll Take Care Of You” are thrown in for good measure, and certainly don’t disappoint.

If you’re looking for more jazz ballads, look no further than the Lady Day.  Once again the focus is on the Great American Songbook, and here Billie Holiday launches into her most popular classics, some of which duplicate the Etta James selections.  Most of the recordings were drawn from her 1933-1944 Columbia catalog (issued on the Brunswick and Vocalion labels), and include “Night and Day,” “Summertime,” and “The Man I Love,” along with “Until the Real Thing Comes Along” from her final Columbia session in 1942 (before she jumped over to Decca).

The Queen of Soul is represented by some of her earlier Columbia releases, including “Unforgettable” from the 1964 Tribute to Dinah Washington, and “Misty” from the 1965 album Yeah!!!.  The bulk of the Aretha Franklin CD focuses on her work with Luther Vandross in the early ’80s and features the hit “Every Girl (Wants My Guy)” along with “Love Me Right,” “I Got Your Love,” and “Giving In,” among others. Her collaboration with producer Narada Michael Walden is represented by several tracks, such as the duet with James Brown “Gimme Your Love,” while the final tracks are drawn from more recent albums.

Last but not least is a collection of slow jams from the Isley Brothers, primarily drawn from their T-Neck and Epic albums of the ’70s and early ’80s, and of course including tracks from 1985’s Caravan of Love (the latter officially released under the name Isley, Jasper, Isley).  Some of the biggest hits from this period are represented, such as “Don’t Say Goodnight (It’s Time For Love),” “Choosey Lover,” “Lay Lady Lay,” and “Let’s Fall In Love (Parts 1 & 2).”
Now that’s got to be enough to put anyone in the mood for Valentine’s Day! None of these are by any means definitive compilations, but for the most part they include a well-balanced mix of romantic favorites, and the CDs will certainly last longer than flowers or a box of chocolates. Buyers should note, however, that some of these compilations have been previously released under alternate titles.

Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

CD Box Sets

Miles Davis. Kind of Blue: 50th Anniversary Collector’s Edition (Sony Legacy, Sept. 2008).

One of the seminal albums in jazz,  newly repackaged with a hard cover book, DVD, LP, and two CDs featuring previously unreleased tracks. If you don’t already own previous releases, the 50th anniversary edition is worth the splurge.

Manhattans.  Sweet Talking Soul, 1965-1990. (Shout! August 2008).

This newly released 3 CD set is a fitting tribute to the Manhattans, tracing their early career as a doo-wop influenced vocal quartet through their soul ballads of the 1970s-80s, when the group was led by Gerald Alston. Included are 45 of their chart-topping hits, including “One Life to Live” (1972), “Kiss and Say Goobye” (1976) and “Shining Star” (1980).

Motown: The Complete #1s. (Motown/Universal, December 2008).

Yet another 50th anniversary compilation, this 10 CD box set surely wins the award for most interesting packaging concept, though shelving it with your current CD collection may proove difficult. Featuring 50 different Motown artists, the 191 tracks should keep you entertained well into the new year. Check out the promotional video below:

Welcome to the May issue

This month we’re featuring Holy hip hop, also known as Christian rap or gospel rap, which blends the musical style and aesthetics of rap/hip hop with overtly Christian lyrics. To learn more about this subgenre of hip hop, be sure to check out the post “Holy Hip Hop 101,” as well as reviews of new CDs by Holy hip hop artists Sha Baraka, FLAME, Phanatak, and shai linne. The Sound of Philadelphia is explored in reviews of two new Legacy releases: Conquer the World: The Lost Soul of Philadelphia International Records, and a compilation of Gamble & Huff’s Greatest Hits. A big “thumbs up” is given to Palmystery, the new solo CD by bass player Victor Wooten, perhaps best known for his work with Béla Fleck and the Flecktones. Though we gave Miles Davis’s The Complete on the Corner Sessions a brief mention in our “Best of 2007” line-up, we’re running a complete review in this issue. Also featured is The Great Debaters Soundtrack, with contributions by the Carolina Chocolate Drops; The Manchester Free Trade Hall 1964 performance by Rev. Gary Davis; and John Work, III: Recording Black Culture, which sheds new light on the field recordings made by the Fisk University professor.

The Complete on the Corner Sessions

Title: The Complete On The Corner Sessions
Artist: Miles Davis
Label: Sony/Legacy
Catalog No.: 88697062392 (6 CD box set)
Date: 2007

Even after his death, critics and musicians alike are still debating the merits of On the Corner, Miles Davis’s recorded declaration of a complete sonic makeover. After In a Silent Way (1969) and Bitches Brew (1970), two albums that clearly showed a new direction, the questions raised over On the Corner seem like a delayed reaction to the already apparent electricity and rock elements that prevail in even the late recordings of the second great quintet (Davis, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams). Perhaps it actually took the critics a few years to come up with a response to the stylistic change of Davis, or perhaps On the Corner was just released at the wrong time. Either way, the immense amounts of press–positive and negative alike–secured a famed position in history for On the Corner.

The general consensus on these recordings was that Davis was trying to emulate the sounds played by Jimi Hendrix and Sly & the Family Stone. By including the electric guitar as a prominent instrument and relying on vamps set by bassist Michael Henderson, he may well have justified this comparison. However, this is only what one hears on the surface of the recordings.

Compositionally, Miles Davis was miles away from Hendrix. As Paul Buckmaster clarifies in the liner notes, Davis had become interested in the music of Stockhausen-a composer who was continually experimenting with tape splicing and juxtaposing different sounds from varied prerecorded sources. Before these sessions, Buckmaster (a composer similar to Stockhausen) met with Davis, and the two of them collaborated on general ideas that would be played by the rhythm section and the horns. Buckmaster even contributed an amplified cello part to one cut. After these recordings were made, Davis and producer Teo Macero set out to create On the Corner. They spliced tapes from different sections of compositions, and even different sessions that sometimes had different players. This was the true magic of the original On the Corner album. Jazz was brought into the realm of the classical avant-garde via the use of tape splicing.

The Complete On The Corner Sessions features six discs comprising the complete takes recorded for the album. Tracks range from three minutes to thirty-two minutes. Most of these pieces were never even used for the producing session that spawned the original album. With these recordings it appears that Davis was truly interested in the “Black Rock” sound. Nearly every track is propelled by a half time groove akin to Hendrix’s “If 6 was 9” or a straight ahead four beat that resembles the Sly Stone hit “Dance to the Music.” Little activity comes from the soloists even while they solo. Melodic figures seem to be of little importance while rhythmic motifs and ethereal “noodling” take a prominent role.

The personel for these six discs is immense but the liner notes make the task of finding out who played on which track fairly simple. Davis draws upon former sidemen from Bithces Brew including Herbie Hancock on electric piano, John McLaughlin on guitar, and Jack Dejohnette on drums. There are also many new faces. Among a myriad of guitarists Pete Cosey and Reggie Lucas stand out. Session master Cornell Dupree makes an appearance on one track but this is a tease because his playing is so tasteful that he may have been the best man for the entire album. Some tracks feature Badal Roy on tabla and Kalhil Balikrishna on electric sitar. Another exotic instrument is the conga. This african element is supplied by Mtume or Don Alias and is heard on almost every cut. Al Foster drums for the majority of the session and provides solid, funky grooves while maintaining the jazz tradition of interacting with other members of the band. The organ chair is quite interesting. Cedric Lawson plays on many cuts but the more memorable keyboard playing is from Davis himself. The one person that is consistent throughout the entire boxed set is Michael Henderson on bass. The notes tell us that his basslines were improvised and that he was one of the few musicians given no direction. However, these basslines appear to be the glue that held these recorded jams together.

Most tracks have a similar vibe, and this is rather dissapointing. When one listens to the original album, the splicing mixes up the grooves and occasionally even the time signatures. There are little to no surprises here. The “Black Rock” elements are prevasive and never let the listener down but the tosses and turns created in the editing may leave anyone that knows the original album feeling crestfallen. Perhaps listening to this album is similar to taking the pieces out of a collage, reconstructing them in their original form, and then seeing what the difference is. The answer is that without the compositional element of tape splicing, this album is reduced to a large number of dance grooves. These unedited versions may be easier to listen to because the groove is always apparent but the artisitc concept of the original album is lost. Disc six contains the edited takes that comprised the original On the Corner album and one can listen to the rest of the set to find these splices in their entirity.

While the album is a mostly homogeneous barrage of heterogeneous sounds that explode or erupt from the instruments, each disc has a track that stands out. outstanding From disc one, “Jabali” draws attention simply for being a low key vamp. Rather than frenetic noises and clusters of sound, this composition relies on the groove established by bassist, Henderson. All the other instruments have a somewhat free and highly improvisational character. Even when many instruments are layered on top of one another the piece does not become cluttered because of the simplistic bass groove.

The standout track from disc two is “Rated X.” This piece is the opposite of “Jabali,” with a texture that is almost constantly dense. Davis supplies an ominous organ introduction and keeps the same vibe througouth the piece. Al Foster answers the dominant organ sound with a drum groove that is just as thick. The contrast comes from the stop times. Davis will hold dissonant chords while the entire band stops and restarts precisely in time. This is possibly the most intense part of the entire box set.

“Peace” from disc three is another low key vamp centered around the bass of Michael Henderson. This composition may or may not have chord changes. The guitar work of Reggie Lucas and Pete Cosey mixed with Dave Liebman’s flute playing give the effect of changing harmonies over an otherwise static vamp. This is welcome change from the monotonous one chord vamping throughout the majority of the six discs.

There are only two tracks on disc four; both are over thirty minutes long. However, “He Loved Him Madly” is by far the superior track. This piece starts out with a slow ethereal aura. The instruments are all simultaneously providing many different colors but they never interfere with each other. Nearly halfway through the tune, Al Foster sets up a groove emphasizing the upbeats. The others still play mostly sounds and colors rather than riffs or melodies. The slow evolution that takes place through the course of thirty-two minutes and fourteen seconds is beautiful. On this track Miles Davis employs many of his older era sound effects and tone colors that made his trumpet playing originally stand out.

“Minnie” from disc five is the possibly the most different track from the sessions. This song features actual chord changes and a guitar riff, as well as a shout chorus and an ending vamp. The rhythm section, however, could just as easily be playing Earth, Wind & Fire as a Miles Davis composition.

“Red China Blues,” a previously unissued single on disc six, reigns supreme over the other tracks. This composition features arrangements from Billy Jackson (rhythm) and Wade Marcus (brass) which, in combination with drummers Bernard Purtie and Al Foster, help make the band extremely tight. There are two definite heroes on this track. Session guitarist Cornell Dupree is masterful in his playing as he lays down a firm R&B groove that fits amazingly with the double drums and Henderson’s bass line. The other hero is Wally Chambers. His harmonica playing truly puts the blues elements in this piece. While Davis’s solo is excellent he doesn’t evoke the same “down home” elements that saturate the playing of Wally Chambers.

While The Complete On the Corner Sessions may reveal the secrets to all the magic tricks from the original album, they are certainly not lackluster. The performces are genuine and extremely funky, and the musicians all know their roles and support each other. Anyone interested in the funk genre will find these sessions not just enjoyable but informative. Any Miles Davis fan will appreciate the extensive liner notes that reveal so much about the compositional processes that Davis was using at the time. Perhaps the most interesting part is to be able to listen to the unedited tracks or “loops” to find the source of each splice on the original album. Any time that previously unreleased material is released, the question is asked why it was not put out in the first place. Possibly the artists, producers, or record companies felt that certain elements were not good enough. In this case, though, the unreleased material is more like the table scraps that were not eaten at the meal. People will eat what they want and leave what is undesirable. When making the original album Davis took what he wanted and left the rest. Just over three decades later this box set allows fans and critics to hear the rest.

Posted by Ben Rice