Song of the Day: Miles Davis “Duran”
Miles Davis‘1971 LP A Tribute to Jack Johnson caught Miles near the beginning on an incredible creatively fertile period. The album (which was a soundtrack to a biopic about the world’s first black heavyweight boxing champion, Jack Johnson, who overcame segregation and discrimination to take the boxing world by storm in 1908) came hot on the heels of the groundbreaking Bitches Brew (wherein Miles et al basically invented jazz fusion) and saw Miles experimenting with new mechanisms for composition. Rather than writing songs outright for an ensemble to perform, Miles, working closely with producer Teo Marcero assembled some of the top progressive jazz players of the time, had them jam for extended periods on snatches of melody or funk riffs or motifs and then edited the jams into cohesive, multi-part wholes. During the mid-2000s, Miles’ label Columbia, gave listeners a peak behind the scenes by releasing the complete recording sessions for a number of albums that Miles recorded this way.
What was fascinating about a lot of these releases was just how cohesive the individual jams that Miles et al were producing really were. While you would expect a mish-mash and perhaps some downright rotten ideas, Miles’ decision to effectively assemble the world’s greatest garage band seemed to yield nothing but the sweetest of fruit. With musicians like John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, Herbie Hancock, Billy Cobham, Jack DeJohnette, Wayne Shorter, Steve Grossman and more assembled, Miles seemed completely unable to do wrong. The resulting music is a dark and evil vooodoo funk groove with Miles and his always cool trumpet gliding over the soup that he had assembled.
While Miles began to lose ground with many of the straight forward jazz critics that he had won over after years of inventive and envelope pushing music, he began picking up a new audience that was more familiar with Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone than the trad jazzers of old. For me, this music is fascinating because its a hybrid music that combines both electric and analogue elements. Its an interesting dialogue between early electronics in the form of electric pianos, electric guitars and bass and purely acoustic instruments like the saxophone and trumpet.
“Duran” is a standout from the Jack Johnson sessions tapes. The track is more of a straight up funk riff than what you would normally think of as jazz. It features some mind-bending guitar riffing from the always venerable John McLaughlin while Miles’ trumpet goes for broke. Miles was clearly into what was going on. You can hear him rasping, after the musicians have stopped playing, “That’s some raunchy shit, ya’ll.”