So August has been a slow month for blogging, and I apologize for that. I’ve been swept up in writing college recs and prepping for the year, but I haven’t forgotten you guys. I have an update from the road trip that I’m working on at the moment. I hope to post that tomorrow once I’ve looked it over and added some video links and confirmed names of some of the bands and band members.
In the meantime, I’ve been into some deep, deep funk these days, and nothing runs deeper or weirder than Miles Davis in the early 1970s.
Partially because he was sensing jazz was losing its grip on the youth, partially because he was competing with Jimi Hendrix and hanging out with Sly Stone, and partially because he was on so much coke he probably lost the ability to sleep, the Coolest man ever to say motha fucka was doing all sorts of jazz fusion experiments. And while he certainly was not the first person to fuse jazz with rock, he was certainly the biggest jazz name ever to do it, and basically brought every fusion artist together (most notably, John McLaughlin, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawniul, and the Headhunter himself, Herbie Hancock) through the extended jam sessions that became Bitches Brew (and lesser known but equally fantastic In a Silent Way and A Tribute to Jack Johnson).
These albums succeeded in getting Miles new, younger fans, and a lot of money, which of course meant more cocaine! At which point, Miles (now hoping to reach a young, black audience) veered off into a direction many were seemingly just unwilling to go. Beginning with 1972’s On the Corner, Miles dished out some of the weirdest, deepest, most distorted funk you will ever hear. This is funk, mixed with a heavy dose of avante-garde. (Miles was also listening to a lot of Stockhausen at the time.) By 1974 and 1975, Miles was making music that was not selling and deeply alienating nearly every audience. Miles himself often played with his back to the audience, with his trumpet being played through a wah-wah pedal. Or instead, he’d play loud, discordant notes on an organ while the rest of his band played. In short it was weird, wild stuff, though the musicians he played with were undoubtedly fantastic. The real hero of this music was Pete Cosey, a former player for Chess Records. If anyone had his ear tuned to what Jimi Hendrix might have done had he lived, it was Cosey. This is as funky as solo guitar can get, featuring a wah-wah that is so distorted, it sounds as if the guitar was underwater. (Okay so I don’t know what that would sound like from personal experience, but this is definitely it.)
This band had to be heard live to be believed, and Miles released three live albums from this time. To my mind, the tightest of these releases was Dark Magus, a double album featuring three guitarists and a healthy dose of congas. The album was originally only released in Japan, and was finally given a U.S. issue and remaster in the 90s. You can now get it on vinyl courtesy of the folks at City Hall Records. This is the master bandleader with his wildest and weirdest band, and it is music that remains unique to this day. Give it a shot, though, because Good God, this can be some very some sensual music.
If you ever refused to believe that Miles couldn’t slow jam with the likes of Isaac Hayes and Al Green, listen to this tune, particularly once the sax kicks in. This is the fourth track off Dark Magus, Wili Pt. 2 (Swahili for the number two, which shows where Miles’ mind was at the time). Partner recommended.