Saturday, May 6, 2017

Blackstar 4: Five Hundred Miles(es)

Remember how I said it’s sad to go through the $3.99 mp3 pages? Well, it’s not always Sad sad. It’s just you spend a lot of time (400 pages worth) going through what looks to be pretty awful stuff before you stumble upon a gem. And you (and I) may not have that kind of time. Let’s agree to not do it when it’s sunny out, okay?

So, one dark and stormy night I found myself there and what do I do? I let myself get further distracted from the current decade, and, like someone who stumbled into The Time Tunnel, find myself back in 1969.


Panthalassa: The Music of Miles Davis 1969-1974

Miles Davis was the Kanye West of his time. A genius, and egotist, who delighted in outraging white people, at a time when that was even more dangerous to do than it is now. Actually, Kanye seems a little nicer.

But there are many Mileses (Miless? Miles's?). There’s post-World War II trumpeter with Charlie Parker, who, frankly, had a hard time keeping up. The band leader for Birth of the Cool. The heroin addict who cleaned himself up before going onto his truly great achievements, like Kind of Blue (my favorite, but so what? That’s everybody’s favorite.) Oh, and he managed to fit in being the leader of at least two of the all-time great jazz small combos.

But as time went on, he was getting a little tired of toiling in relative obscurity - critical acclaim doesn’t pay the bills you see - and seeing rock n roll stars hitting it big, he began to change his music yet again.

First, there was In A Silent Way, which is a perfectly lovely and accessible, if not overpowering, mood record. And to a lot of jazz fans, maybe not jazz at all.

But if they thought that wasn’t jazz, they were in for greater outrage, because he then moved on to Bitch’s Brew, the highly-regarded - and highly controversial - jazz fusion classic.

My favorite from that period is Jack Johnson, which came right after Bitches. It has all of Bitch's thrills in half the time.

And he’d go on throughout the seventies in a genre that was kind of forbidding to me. He was always quite prolific, and he didn’t slow down until 1977, putting out album after album, many of the doubles.  I didn’t even start on Miles until 1980, so there was no way I’d be able to find my way through his catalog. Miles is one of those artists for whom you really need a guide.

But this record is a remix/re-edit of pieces from that era, and frankly, I can’t tell the difference between it and the originals. But it is a tight, condensed version of those sprawling records.

So this is a great starting point. If you like it, then move onto Silent and then maybe Johnson. And then, if you’re feeling dangerous, dive into this era with the original records. Of course, if this era isn’t your bag, then Kind of Blue is the way to go.

But it you decide to come here, and you’re willing to sit back and let it all unfold, you won’t be disappointed.


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