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lucius
Posted on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 03:24 pm:   

This is an adjunct to Jeff VanDemeer's music thread--a piece I did for anthology of brief essays on various jazz musicians.




Most of what we know about the life of Miles Davis is either anecdotal or a matter of official record, and thus not absolutely reliable; but by all accounts, most pertinently by his own, Miles Davis was a bad man. Live Evil. Bitches Brew. Dark Magus. Sorceror. Black Devil. The titles of those albums tell the story he needed us to hear. They -- and the music whose nature they reflect -- embody an admission of perfidy, malice and vengefulness, and further convey the prideful glorification of those transgressions. Like all of us, Miles invented himself from the chaos he was given to interpret; unlike many of us, he never bothered with reinvention. He hewed to his original self-conception with unrepentant ferocity, engaging in a type of human alchemy, changing himself into an imaginary creature who lived in place of the ordinary man. The fanfare that opens Bitches Brew contrived the formal announcement of this change and, thereafter, he inculcated his music with a churlish, occult presence that refined it into something other than music, a brooding and often brutish form of intimacy that gladdened no hearts and lifted no spirits, speaking instead to the body and the backbrain.
Critics like to enthuse about Miles Davis in the 50s and 60s and disregard his output during the 70s, a creative period after which he retired for several years. Some see this electric music as a dissolute phase and some perceive it as tired, evidence of an aging talent attempting to be contemporary. But Miles never had to work at being contemporary. He proclaimed no cosmic evangel as did Coltrane, and he was neither a Blake-ish visionary like Albert Ayler nor a mad scientist poet like Ornette Coleman. The information he relayed when playing never seemed dated as sometimes is the case with poets and preachers. Elegance was a suit he wore, but inside it he was sinewy, funky, raw. Passion was a language he could speak, but passion bored him and he employed it only when it served to pay the bills. Essentially, he was on the lookout and streetcorner-talking about what he saw coming. Not the long view, but the way things looked a few storefronts down, next week, a couple months from now. He wanted to be the coolest monster on the corner, the one who got raised up yet stayed with the street no matter what marble halls surrounded him. That may not be all he was, just who he wanted to be, but he wanted it with such genius intensity, he became the star of his own personal Blaxploitation movie, acting the role of a sinister, magical hustler who when he played was checking things out and reporting back to himself. He included us in the conversation because we gave him the money and attention he had hustled us for, and he bought into his own con so completely, he left behind a standard street hustler's legacy of embittered ex-friends and maltreated women.
All great artists pander a little -- they feel they have to tell us something good about ourselves, offer a connection that'll make us believe we're complicit what they do and give us something to talk about afterward. Miles outgrew that tendency during the 70s. He turned his back on the audience and muttered into his horn as if pronouncing a curse he didn't want anyone to understand. He played mean, he played nasty, he played cooly sneering blurts of sound, and even when he played beautiful, it seemed he was commenting on beauty rather than lending it voice, that at the core of every melody was a disaffection that rendered beauty irrelevant, an attitude increasingly informed by a politics compounded of anger and heroin and egomania. During those years his face shriveled from a griot's aloof mask to a black wizard's skull with a Sphinx hairdo, and his music was distilled down from innovative melodic phrasings like maps of an organic process, crystalline structures, luminous blue branches forking among the rustlings of the rhythm section, into something dread and basic, dark oceans of chords opening over a snaky, slithering cymbal hiss, a cluttered rumble of bass, and then the sinuous trumpet line, a snake charmer whine rising from a storm of thunderheads and scuttling claws, as plaintive and elusive as a muezzin's call...It seemed to have the freedom of jazz, yet at the same time it had the feel of heavy, ritual music.
I remember how, after seeing Miles in the 60s, I walked out of the club thinking about his technique and the particularity of his invention and his ostensibly off-handed yet astonishingly precise enunciation of the notes. His 70s music -- as for instance, the Carnegie Hall recordings released under the title Dark Magus -- doesn't provoke any similar intellectual reaction, which explains why it is dismissed by intellectuals. It breeds images in your mind. Static red flashes and black mountains moving. Mineral moons in granite skies. A thread of fire outlining a distant ridge. Then it washes over you and shuts you down. It's not art, it's not beauty, it's a meter reading on the state of the soul, a registering of creepy fundamentals, a universal alpha wave, God's EKG, a base electric message crackling across the brain. It suggests that what Miles saw on his immediate horizon was a figure of terrible promise. That's what I heard, anyway. A reedy alarm mounted against a crawl of background radiation, a whisper of melody leaking out through a crack in death's door, filling all the air with its singular disturbance. Miles ultimately wanted less to entertain than to unsettle his audience, and this music was as much a statement of that policy as it was one of blighted conviction.
There was nothing Promethean about Miles. Transfiguration and transcendence were not among his concerns. Like Rimbaud and Bukowski, Celine and Mishima, he was a hero descending, moving ever downward into a spiritual bottomland, never flinching from the experience, wallowing in the stuff that tarred the floor of his soul. His music is a record of that descent, a sonic diary that tagged the walls with an enduring graffiti, and, at the same time, a fiction he was telling the street, the environment whose demi-urge he sought to be. During the 70s, however, he seemed to have become an oneiric figure in whom fiction and truth comingled. Dressed in flashy silks; his face grown somewhat wizened, the sort of ancient face you see emerging from the rough textures of tree bark or an avocado pit; standing still in the noise of the storm he orchestrated -- watching and listening to him, I had the idea that his arrogance and defiance were no longer merely part of a costume, but served to deflect fear, that he had seen the shadow of the myth he made coming to claim him, the thing he'd always been on the lookout for, an awful conclusion that, if we could see it, would frighten us as well. Something big, burly, and spitting flame as it went spinning down, clawing at the air for purchase.
In the 80s, when Miles returned after his retirement, his style was slicker and, though some of the music was good, it no longer seemed possessed by that furious entity. He was, for all intents and purposes, done. It's hard to sum up what a musician leaves behind. Though the recordings remain, the sounds have been vacated to a degree by the death of the player. But when I put on Dark Magus or Panagea or any of his music from the 70s, one thing comes clear: Miles didn't bring us much good news on his way down to death, but for a time he showed us how the Devil might have sung while he fell through the floor of Heaven.



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Daniel Read
Posted on Friday, May 09, 2003 - 04:37 pm:   

Beautiful stuff, Lucius, and a fine tribute to one of my favorite periods in Miles's career. (But really, I guess they're almost all favorites--excepting perhaps the time between the brilliant "Birth of the Cool" and the mid fifties when he got his shit together again). You do a wonderful job of applying imagery to Mile's abstract forms. "a figure of terrible promise" I like that.

It has always been easy for me to dismiss the overly intellectual critics when they deride Miles's 70's output. Miles jumped ahead so far on them that they did not know how to take it, could not relate to it, could not feel it--and still can't.

"Dark Magus" is great stuff, thick and heady, with those deep African rhythms and dark overtones--reminds me a bit of the feelings evoked by "Crocodile Rock," in fact. I must say, though, that I prefer the late '69 to '72-ish live stuff.

In late '69 the "lost quintet" (Miles, Shorter, Holland, Dejonette, and Corea) embarked on a tour of Europe, playing mostly material from "Bitches Brew," but also throwing in standby's like "I Fall in Love Too Easily." This tour to me was the beginning of the line that leads to "Dark Magus" and "Panagea." Here they take the ethereal beauty and softness of "Bitches Brew" and turn it into skronky, furious, edgy controlled chaos. Without McLaughlin and Zawinul to pull them in towards the realm of the traditional, they are totally unfettered. It's just beautiful.

This tour is only available on bootlegs (I have several if you'd like copies), but was captured pretty closely when they returned to the States and played a few shows with the same lineup. Their March 7, 1970 show was recently released officially as "Live at the Fillmore East," though Airto Moreira was added to the lineup by that point. I love Airto, but his addition takes some of the rawness out of the great music that band played for a short time. (Some stuff this band played in Feburary also shows up on "Live Evil.")

The next great signpost for me is "Black Beauty." This is probably my favorite single release of all of the 70's live Miles material. It's so hard for me to describe this music, despite the fact that I've listened to the performance countless times. How in the hell is a poor jazz critic supposed to cope with "Black Beauty," even a critic who managed to stay with Coltrane in his final, extreme years?

It's really amazing to me how quickly Miles progressed through the 70's. If you look at a timeline of the performances running from the aforementioned "lost quintet" performances, through "Live Evil," "Black Beauty," "Filmore West," "Filmore East," "In Concert," "Dark Magus", "Panagea," and "Agharta," the gaps in time between major leaps forward are so short. (If anyone has bootlegs of the many shows between these official releases, I'd love to trade.) Besides the live stuff, you also have major achievements like "On the Corner" and personal favorite "Jack Johnson." This period was, without a doubt, his most creative and innovative.

As much as I love the amazing music his second quintet made from '63 to '68, that band was really much more in the tradition of post-bop, an extension of Miles's late 50's output. Certainly you can follow a progression from "Miles in the Sky" to "In A Silent Way" to "Bitches Brew" to "Black Beauty," (it's not like "Black Beauty" sprang out of nowhere), but the distance from the beginning of that road to the end is so much wider than the distance between, say, "Steamin' with the Miles Davis Quintet" to "Nefertiti," which are both still steeped in "traditional" jazz vocabularies. (Of course, there are so many detours and innovations along that latter road, my characterization of it is a vast over simplification. There's no pinning Miles Davis down in a paragraph or two.)

Pardon all the pontificating, but I can't pass up a chance to talk Miles.

BTW, Lucius, you might really like this essay, if you have not already read it:

http://www.wam.umd.edu/~losinp/music/code_md.html

It's one of the most interesting pieces I've read on the subject of Mile's 70's output and bands.

Dan
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, May 09, 2003 - 05:01 pm:   

Dan, thanks for turning me onto the article. As for copies of bootlegs of the Lost Quintent, oh yeah! I don't know what I could trade you for the, but I would love to grab 'em. So let me know if you really want to extend yourself to this degree and I'll get you an address, and then see if there's something I can do for you.
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Daniel Read
Posted on Saturday, May 10, 2003 - 04:01 pm:   

I thought I posted this once already, but apparently it did not go through...

Lucius, I'll be happy to make copies of the bootlegs I have for you. No trade is necessary. In my book, having them implies an obligation to share them. If anyone else is interested, I can do the same. Send me an e-mail with you address and I'll send them when I can.

Dan
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GabrielM
Posted on Sunday, May 11, 2003 - 11:54 am:   

A very cool essay, Lucius, thanks for posting. Miles is my favaorite jazz musician after Coltrane, and I think it's great that his seventies work is finally getting some of the recognition ir deserves and that the albums from that era are being rereleased. I remember searching fruitlessly for DARK MAGUS for years and finally only being able to obtain a copy...in Tokyo!!! (Together with some late Coltrane albums....)
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Rick Bowes
Posted on Sunday, May 11, 2003 - 10:33 pm:   

Really evocative. The times I saw Miles were in the '70's. For me musical performance is theater. And he was a riveting presence.
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lucius
Posted on Monday, May 12, 2003 - 04:20 am:   

Gabe, yeah it's weird how our one true American art form is given more overseas than in its own country. Been that way forever. I bet that 60 percent of the best jazz albums I get are on foreign labels.

Rick...MIles was theater, for sure. I caught him in the Sixties and Seventies, and he was definitely a performance piece in progress. Anyway, glad y'all related to the essay.
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lucius
Posted on Monday, May 12, 2003 - 04:20 am:   

Gabe, yeah it's weird how our one true American art form is given more love overseas than in its own country. Been that way forever. I bet that 60 percent of the best jazz albums I get are on foreign labels.

Rick...MIles was theater, for sure. I caught him in the Sixties and Seventies, and he was definitely a performance piece in progress. Anyway, glad y'all related to the essay.
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M. Bishop
Posted on Monday, May 12, 2003 - 11:29 am:   

I agree, Lucius, a lovely piece of work, your essay on Miles. I especially like "the sort of ancient face you see emerging from the rough textures of tree bark or an avocado pit," which I would have saved for a story and which I may yet steal.

A few years ago (obviously), Miles Davis came to Atlanta for a concert, and an editorial writer on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution picked him up in a cab to cart him to his hotel. Miles didn't want to go to the hotel, if I remember this story correctly; he wanted to go to a "really good barbecue joint." The editorial writer, Tom Teepen, told the hack to take them to such-and-such a place, calling it by name, whereupon Miles said, "I meant a really good _black_ barbecue joint." Teepen said that he derived a sliver of satisfaction from being able to turn to Miles and say, "That's what I meant, too." Miles grunted but acquiesced in this announcement, and apparently the joint in question delivered the goods.

I don't know a great deal about Miles's work in the seventies, but his albums "The Birth of the Cool," "Kind of Blue," and a sampler featuring a 14-minute version of "Autumn Leaves," one of the single most beautiful pieces of music I've ever heard, are among my favorites in any genre.

Mike
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Rick Bowes
Posted on Monday, May 12, 2003 - 12:07 pm:   

Lucius

Meant to add that I loved your final image. Truly, if one had to cast The Son Of The Morning Star...
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JeffV
Posted on Monday, May 12, 2003 - 01:15 pm:   

That's a truly stunning article, Lucius. Just brilliant. I don't care for jazz, but reading that makes me want to try it again.

JeffV
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John Klima
Posted on Monday, May 12, 2003 - 01:56 pm:   

I have to second JeffV. As I noted in Jeff's music thread, I do not care for most jazz that was recorded in the 70s, but your article/essay makes me feel that I missed something and should try it again.

JK
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Lucius
Posted on Monday, May 12, 2003 - 08:29 pm:   

Mike,

Glad you enjoyed the piece.

Miles was, as your anecdote relates, an unpleasant sort. I met him briefly not too long before his death and he was pretty dismissive. I've met a number of black jazz guys who were racist as hell. David Murray springs to mind. But then there are guys like Matt Shipp and Milford Graves and Ornette Coleman who are quite the opposite.

I'm not sure you'd like Miles' 70s music straight off -- you need to approach it from th right direction if you're used to the music that you reference; but there is great genius -- genius gone dark and menacing. It's strong stuff.
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Lucius
Posted on Monday, May 12, 2003 - 08:40 pm:   

Jeff V,

I think people who're into music come to jazz in their own time and their own way. I was exposed to jazz in my early teens and didn't get it at all; then, when I was 18, I was in this hippie bar in Spain and the owner put on a record. The John Handy Quintet Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival and there was one beautiful piece, "Spanish Lady," that just...I don't know. All of sudden I just sort of got it. I had to have that record. Maybe it was partially because the quintet included an electric guitar played in a rockish fashion and that bridged the gap for me. Whatever, after that I was all over jazz -- I didn't listen to much else for the next five years. Anyway, given what I've read of your tastes, I'm pretty sure there are any number of albums out there that might hook you in. Maybe some of the Miles stuff we've been talking about. But do you need another obsession? :-)
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Lucius
Posted on Monday, May 12, 2003 - 08:48 pm:   

JK,

You know I have a lot friends who, like you, can't get into 70s stuff; they like bop --Dolphy, Mingus, early Miles, et al. I think it all derives from what you hear first. Me, I hooked into late 60s, early 70s stuff first, and then went backward to Charlie Parker and all that. That may be an easier transition to make. But there is some great stuff from the 70s on. Some of it's liable to find you.
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Ellen
Posted on Monday, May 12, 2003 - 08:59 pm:   

Lucius,
You're right about coming into jazz in their own way and time. In the early 70s when I lived in Greenwich Village I went to a lot of jazz and folk clubs--heard Yusef Lateef, Herbie Mann live.
Got into Dave Brubeck(I've always loved Take 5), Gato Barbieri, Miles Davis's Bitch's Brew. Then for twenty years forgot about it all completely.

Then a few years ago--I think it was when my favorite radio station at the time (I listen to music at home all the time--radio or cds)--I think it was wnew went downhill and I couldn't stand to listen to it any more (maybe when Obie and Anthony started their reign of terror in NYC).

So then I discovered KCR --something must have hit me when I heard it--maybe Phil Schaf (sp)--my friend John hates him because he says he talks too much) who explained a lot about the context of what he was playing grabbed me. Anyway, KCR had a whole week of Louis Armstrong from the beginning of his career and that was an ear-opener. All I knew of him was his "Hello Dolly" stage which I never liked much. And from there I started listening to Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Coleman Hawkins, etc.
With the destruction of the WTC KCR went off the air and although it may be back I've never been able to get it again so moved on to WBGO in Newark. BGO considers itself a jazz station but plays a lot of what I wouldn't call jazz at all but overall it's not bad. And this time around I've been listening to Miles's early stuff. Your piece does make me want to listen to his later work.


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Deborah
Posted on Monday, May 12, 2003 - 09:26 pm:   

Coming to jazz stories...so I had been heavily into country and rock for most of my life. Early 80s I was in an outlaw country phase and got my heart squashed flat and ground into the pavement and absolutely couldn't listen to anything with a steel guitar without bursting into tears -- very inconvenient. So, I said to myself in my ignorance, I'll switch to jazz -- no words, no steel guitars -- intellectuls listen to it -- it must be safe.

Well, I was partly right and partly wrong, I reckon. Coltrane was nearly as bad as Willie on my poor old heart, but somehow, it was therapeutic in a way country wasn't...

Deborah
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Shed Boy
Posted on Monday, May 12, 2003 - 09:52 pm:   

Message to the Minx -- I hear your heart's complaint.
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Jonathan Strahan
Posted on Monday, May 12, 2003 - 10:50 pm:   

Coming to jazz? I grew up in a house filled with swing - mostly stuff like Stan Kenton - and couldn't see the point in it. I wanted stuff loud and nasty and that might just make your ears bleed if you tried hard enough.

But, time changes everything. I had my first near-encounter with jazz, after a lifetime of rock, in Hear Music on 4th Street in Berkeley in May of 1995. Went into this tiny record store and listened to a copy of Mile's haunting soundtrack to Louis Malle's Ascenseur pour l'Échafaud. Beautiful stuff. For a variety of reasons, I spent a month each Spring in Berkeley over the next couple years, and it seemed that that was the only time I bought or listened to jazz. And then I went to live there. Between March 1997 and March 1998 I spent a lot of time trying to learn jazz. I bought books, I listened to cds, and I went to shows - most notably a lovely performance by Joe Henderson. And the music was gorgeous. Probably the single recording that hit me the most at the time was Mile's In a Silent Way which remains ever a favorite.

Having spent five years away from the Bay Area, barring a quick visit in 1999 and last year for WorldCon, I haven't had as much time to explore jazz (very few performers make it to the antipodes and there is no jazz radio here at the outer limit of the Empire). The later electronic Miles is still a little too much for me, though I recently have begun to "get" Bitches Brew and I suspect it's going to make sense one day. That's how it was with the later post-Vanguard Coltrane - noise one week, powerful music the next. The only thing that worries me about jazz at all is that the record companies seem to have decided that jazz is finished - we only need to hear the brand names, repackaged - while I don't doubt there's someone out there doing something out on the edge that would be blowing me away, were I just to hear it.
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M. Bishop
Posted on Tuesday, May 13, 2003 - 05:42 am:   

I'll second In a Silent Way. I have a great deal of trouble with the sort of jazz that some cynics deride as "honking and tweeting," but that's how some of it sounds to me, too. Still, I wouldn't mind giving Miles's later work a shot.
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JeffV
Posted on Tuesday, May 13, 2003 - 05:50 am:   

Lucius:

I always need another obsession! LOL! I'm going to seek out some Miles Davis and we'll see what happens. Perhaps all the cafes in Ambergris will foresake squid and suddenly become jazz clubs.

JeffV
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John Klima
Posted on Tuesday, May 13, 2003 - 05:57 am:   

My father, who is the almost the definition of a republican to a tee (CPA, golfs, country club, cadillac, etc.), has always been very open to the music he listens to. He always had stuff on like Chuck Mangione, Young Holt Unlimited Trio, Jesus Christ Superstar, the first 5 Chicago albums, etc. when I was like 4 or 5 when that stuff was new. My dad also liked Stan Getz, Cal Tjader, Gerry Mulligan, and Louis Armstrong, so I guess all of that together leads me into more of the bop era of jazz. I remember one day in college I got up from my studies, left my apartment, walked across the street to a record store (B-Side Music in Madison, WI), and bought Cookin', Smokin', and Relaxin' with the Miles Davis Quintet. Don't know why, I just got up and did it.

I do very much enjoy In A Silent Way. I think my issue with Bitches Brew was that it's always presented as this seminal work that will change your life but I had no frame of reference to place it in to really understand what it was doing. (even so, I feel [agree?] that it helped pioneer fusion and had a major impact on music in general) All the same, it's the 1950s jazz combos that I enjoy most.

Unless we're talking guitarists, then I can enjoy just about anybody from any era.

JK
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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, May 13, 2003 - 07:40 am:   

JK,

for my part, In A Silent Way was more a seminal work than BB, and I feel that BB is somewhat overrated, whereas Miles work thereafter is somewat underrated. But 50s jazz...how can you go wrong? I can't get enough of Mingus stuff from that era. Therre's so much music worth listening to, no one can ever feel that they've missed too much.
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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, May 13, 2003 - 07:53 am:   

jonathan,

you're dead on about the current state of jazz. The worst thing is that many of the great young players get pushed into what;s caled over hear Lite jazz. Joshua Redman, for instance. Son of Dewey Redman who played with Ornette for years and years. I've heard him play amazing in litle clubs, but in concert and on album he's really reigned in.

There is some great stuff happening. There was a big new jazz festival in New York recently, Visionfest, and there were a lot of terrific groups there. But they get recorded by labels like Silkheart, DIW, and et al, all foreign labels, and so they don't get over in this country. Somehow the art form survives, though. I mean, if it was real popular, it probably wouldn't be art.
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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, May 13, 2003 - 07:55 am:   

Jeff V.

Hey, the squid might stick around. Undersea creatures love Miles.
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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, May 13, 2003 - 08:06 am:   

Mike....

I'm not waxing evangelic about later Miles, but I think Dan Read made a great point when he said that Miles progressed so rapidly in the 70s he left the critics behind. Doubtless he left some of his audience behind as well. If you follow Miles' progression up through the 70s, listen album by album, then maybe the musical vocabulary wll become clearer. I don't know. All I do know is I don't hear honking and tweeting. But with some jazz I've been in that positon. First time I heard Albert Ayler, I though the guy sounded drunk when he played. Took me a while to realize that he was drunk, just not on alcohol. I had to learn to feel the spirit. Get acclimated to it.
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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, May 13, 2003 - 08:11 am:   

Deborah, there was a guitarist who died a few years back, Charlie something, his name eludes me (haven't had my coffee), and he played what he called Hillbilly Jazz. Sounds like that might be up your alley. :-) But, no, you can't get away from emotion with jazz. Some of it, the chops-dominated stuff...Berkeley Shool of Music Jazz. That's pretty techincal and clinical But the good stuff is all emotion.
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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, May 13, 2003 - 08:15 am:   

Ellen, I used to love Gato, man. Jazz mixed with the tango. In later years he got a little too straightforward for my tastes, but he was a monster for a while. I think I'm going to go pull out my old Gato CDs.
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RFW
Posted on Tuesday, May 13, 2003 - 09:17 am:   

Deborah, you might like Bill Frisell. Jazz guitarist. I don't know his early stuff, but since the mid '90s he's been experimenting with country/roots melodies. His first album in that style is Nashville. Also Ghost Town, Good Dog, Happy Man, The Willies. I don't know jazz at all, but I like what he does.

I do have Miles's On the Corner, but I haven't listened to it in years. I'll have to clear the cds off the top of the turntable so I can play it.

Robert
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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, May 13, 2003 - 09:38 am:   

Robert,

Frisell used to play in this great band called the Presidents with wayne Horvitz and Elliot Sharp. If you like Frizell, you might want to see if you can find it used -- I'm sure it's OP.
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RFW
Posted on Tuesday, May 13, 2003 - 09:48 am:   

Thanks Lucius, I'll look for it. I think he still plays some with Horvitz, and Horvitz's wife, Robyn Holcomb. They all live in Seattle now.

Robert
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John Klima
Posted on Tuesday, May 13, 2003 - 09:50 am:   

There's also a great bebop album with Jon Scofield and Frisell playing together with Charlie Haden and Joey Bishop. It's called Grace Under Pressure and it's really good stuff if you like bebop.

JK
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GabrielM
Posted on Tuesday, May 13, 2003 - 03:19 pm:   

I like Frisell a good deal. His new album Intercontinentals is pretty interesting, he explores some African and Brazilian music. Still getting into it. My recent favorites of his are his blues album BLUES DREAM and his collaboration with Dave Holland and Elvin Jones, which is excellent.

Now I'm off to hear Liz Hand read....
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Jonathan Strahan
Posted on Tuesday, May 13, 2003 - 03:47 pm:   

If you're talking guitar, I didn't mind Marc Johnson's The Sound of Summer Running. And when it comes to music-as-soundtrack for your life, the perfect Sunday morning record has to be John Scofield's Quiet (which is lovely). Somewhere along the line I got caught up with Bill Evan's Waltz for Debby too, and I have a soft spot for some Keith Jarrett.

J
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M. Bishop
Posted on Wednesday, May 14, 2003 - 05:58 am:   

Has anybody read the Miles Davis autobiography (which is called simply _Miles_), written with Quincy Troupe? I've got a copy in a Touchstone trade-paper edition with 111 black-and-white photographs, but haven't cracked the text yet. This discussion has prompted me to pull the title out of the bookcase and to set it on my to-be-read-next stack, which now rises to a height mighty susceptible to toppling. Miles published this book in 1989. Has anyone done a credible biography? If so, who?

Mike
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Lucius
Posted on Wednesday, May 14, 2003 - 06:52 am:   

Mike,

Haven't read the autobiography. I own but also haven't read" "Miles Davis, The definitive biography," which was published by Harper Collins a few years ago. A friend told me it wasn't bad, however.
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GabrielM
Posted on Wednesday, May 14, 2003 - 09:55 am:   

I'm not sure there's a definitive biography, but I personally prefer Jack Chambers's MILESTONES to Carr's book, as Carr has something of a loopy theoretical axe to grind. The thing about MILESTONES is that it's pretty massive and probably not for the casual reader. John Szwed has a recent bio out called SO WHAT which I've bought but haven't read yet.

As far as the autobiography, I read it when it came out and remember I found it tremendously entertaining. Miles comes through in all his unvarnished, pissed off glory. Just don't think you're getting anything even remotely resembling a semi-objective view of events...or that you'll somehow end up liking the guy.
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Daniel Read
Posted on Wednesday, May 14, 2003 - 12:29 pm:   

Michael, the autobiography is definitely worth your time, but I also recommend balancing it out with a biography. The one I recommend is 'Round About Midnight: A Portrait of Miles Davis by Eric Nisenson. Nisenson has a particularly interesting perspective, since he spent many hours and nights with Miles during his '75-80 "retirement" period, most of which he spent cooped up in his house doing a lot of coke and drinking, and receiving very few visitors. Definitely get the updated edition from 1996.

Dan
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M. Bishop
Posted on Thursday, May 15, 2003 - 05:45 am:   

Lucius, Gabriel, Dan,

Thanks for the tips on the biographies. I'll probably take a header into the autobiography before tackling any of these others, but I've written the titles and the authors' names down and will save them for reference. The autobiography certainly *looks* interesting.

The opening to Chapter 6, for instance, goes, "When I got back to this country in the summer of 1948, it was just like Kenny Clarke had told me - nothing had changed. I don't know _why_ I thought it would be any different than it was; I think I thought it would be different because of the way things had happened for me in Paris. . . ."

Sounds as if Troupe must have tape-recorded this stuff and then failed to edit it, but at least you get Miles's authentic voice, even with the redundancy of "I think I thought." And the photos - many of them - make Miles look like an amiable social animal, albeit one still capable of writing, "Bird left the club and peed in a telephone booth, thinking it was a toilet." Good stuff. Anyway, thanks for all the recommendations.

Mike
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Michael Cisco
Posted on Saturday, May 17, 2003 - 06:18 pm:   

It's strange - I found it easier to get into Miles' seventies material than into most of the more accessible jazz. My tastes in music tend to be dark, though not uniformly so, and a great deal of jazz is rooted in party time. But there was always far too much tension in Miles' music, even the breezier stuff, for parties. But even I wasn't prepared for Dark Magus, which is perhaps the best way to get acquainted with it. It's not even a lapel-grabber - it's an against-the-wall-plasterer. It's like this music comes on with the expressed intention of replacing you for a while, an annihilation you can observe taking place, if you like, or simply succumb to, if you like. That's part of what happens with the freer jazz, I guess; they let you alone, you leave them alone, they do their thing, you do yours, but there's this single pristine fact of listening left in the air.
When I listen to most jazz, I feel I'm being situated in places and times that are familiar and not especially interesting, if not unpleasant. This is less so with Miles' early works, but with the seventies stuff we enter into wildly lysurgic fantasies; nothing familiar. Now the problem becomes orienting yourself, which is easier to do with repeated listenings. You can find the spots you want to revisit. You're being trained ... it's not unlike some of Tarkovsky's movies, where a scene just holds and holds and holds in one spot without changing, until you either fast forward in impatience or you surrender to a different sense of time.

The thread-opening essay is magnificent writing - real toothsome.
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GabrielM
Posted on Wednesday, August 27, 2003 - 11:41 am:   

I've been reading this new anthology of Lester Bangs's criticism and there are a couple of seventies pieces in there about Miles, in particular about Get Up With It. Kind of interesting, made me get up and play "He Loved Him Madly" again. Was just curious whether you might be familiar with Bangs's take on the stuff, Lucius, and what you thought about it.
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Rich Patterson
Posted on Wednesday, December 17, 2003 - 05:48 pm:   

I just read about a Miles box set that came out this past September called "The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions". It's a 5CD deconstruction of the original cut-and-paste "A Tribute to Jack Johnson" lp. I've never been crazy about CDs full of multiple takes of the same song, but in Miles's case... Has anybody heard this yet?
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Lucius
Posted on Wednesday, December 17, 2003 - 05:57 pm:   

Haven't heard it, but I probably will at some point, because I like the Jack Johnson Cd a lot....
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Lucius
Posted on Wednesday, December 17, 2003 - 05:59 pm:   

Gabe, I must have overlooked your post about Bangs. I thought LB was pretty great, but I can't say I read a whole bunch of his stuff. Jist some of the early Cream magazine stuff. Want to point me toward something?
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GabrielM
Posted on Wednesday, December 17, 2003 - 08:49 pm:   

Yeah, when I get back home I'll post the specifics. Currently in London, jet lagged and reading Charles Lamb essays at four in the morning. Unfortunately they're quite excellent, so I'm getting none of the hoped for soporific effect. And then I read one about a building located where "Threadneedle St abuts Bishopsgate" and I realize that's exactly where I'm staying. Weird.

Bangs could be great, his review of Nico's MARBLE INDEX knocked my socks off. And of METAL MACHINE MUSIC. Guy had incredible passion and a true unironic love for what he wrote about. Unfortunately some of his stuff is also really self-indulgent or at least seems that way now. There are two anthologies in print (one just came out), the first one edited by Greil Marcus, but I think the selection could have been a hell of a lot tighter in both cases. There's this thirty page or so essay of going on tour with The Clash, for example, that just seems fanboyish now. I couldn't read it for more than a few pages at a time. Took me forever to finish it. Although there's this unintentionally funny part where the band treats some fan like crap and Bangs is so disappointed in his idols he mopes for about ten pages and then decides he must have it out with Joe Strummer or something....
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Lucius
Posted on Wednesday, December 17, 2003 - 09:02 pm:   

Thanks, Gabe. I think rock criticism (maybe any form of criticism, but especially rock) is by nature fanboyish and indulgent -- just sometimes it rises above its obsessions. I felt for Bangs, having to be portrayed in a Cameron Crowe movie. Anyway, happy London....
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Richard Patterson
Posted on Sunday, February 01, 2004 - 06:18 am:   

Lucius,

FYI: I came across a review of the COMPLETE JACK JOHNSON SESSIONS that clarifies the chronology of these recordings. All 5 discs were recorded between February and June 1970. Edited sections were then spliced together to create, not only A TRIBUTE TO JACK JOHNSON, but parts of LIVE-EVIL, BIG FUN, GET UP WITH IT and DIRECTIONS. And, there’s way more Sonny Sharrock on these complete takes than anyone ever knew. I have to start saving…

http://www.jazzitude.com/miles_jackjohnsoncomplete01.htm

The reviewer also gets into Miles's various connections to boxing.
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Lucius
Posted on Sunday, February 01, 2004 - 07:29 am:   

Gotta love Sonny Sharrock. Greatest of all the jazz guitarists, though I have a soft spot for Blood Ulmer.

Interesting the connection between jazz and boxing. The greatest contemporary jazz pianist (in my view), Matt Shipp, does an zine called Jazz and Boxing and recently shot a movie, almost silent, about the sport for which he's written a score and will play it live, as in old silent movie houses, when the film is screened. Cecil Taylor is a huge boxing fan. I'd guess that half the jazz guys I know in NYC are not only conversant with but expert in the sport....

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