Thursday, February 02, 2006

Plug in

Here are five good ways, or 10, to start appreciating the electric music of Miles Davis.

"In a Silent Way," not too big a shift from the late '60s free-leaning acoustic explorations of his great Shorter-Hancock-Carter-Williams quintet. I rate it with "Kind of Blue" as his masterwork. One theme throughout his career is the importance not of playing all the notes but only the important notes. Here's the apex.

"A Tribute to Jack Johnson," what happens after "In a Silent Way." Get in the car, slip it into the CD player and start driving. I could get across Kansas on the groove and probably find something new in the music every listen.

"Live at the Fillmore East, March 7, 1970: It's About That Time," think they can't do the kind of stuff they did on "Jack Johnson" live? Think again. This is my favorite live Miles electric disk, although there are other good ones. ("Agharta" is number two, and since it comes later, 1975, you get a better fix on the music's advancement. You won't go wrong with either.)

"We Want Miles," I like the trumpeter whose subtle touch is legendary with Mike Stern, a rocking electric guitarist whose touch can nonetheless be likewise delicate and whose creativity is often off the charts. "Jean-Pierre" might be my favorite Miles electric tune.

"Tutu," the logical extension of where he'd been heading since 1969. Marcus Miller laid down pretty much everything else electronically and Miles recorded over it. Both of them did a marvelous job. Great trumpet playing from Davis and the thing in sum is accessible, even danceable at intervals.

Don't deny yourself the experience, however. Be sure to check out "Bitches Brew" and "On the Corner," too. I think they're the two disks most loaded with the elements of his electric period, but also dense and less accessible as a result, meaning they take more work to really appreciate.

I'm a freak, I love "Doo-Bop" as well (which is Miles meets hip-hop, briefly, because he died a few months after recording it in 1991). Guy could play, end game or not.

For a sampler of what he was getting to the last couple decades of his life try "Live Around the World." On the song "Amandla," he drags jazz into the 21st Century. The version of "Time After Time" rates with Miles acoustic versions of "My Funny Valentine." It makes Cyndi Lauper's pop rendering, on which it's based, look anemic, and I like Cyndi Lauper's pop rendering.

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