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180 gram, Import
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Amandla was originally released in 1989. It is the third and final collaboration between Miles Davis and producer/bassist Marcus Miller. The album mixes elements of the genres go-go, zouk, funk, and jazz, combining electronic instruments with live musicians. The composition "Mr. Pastorius", featuring drummer Al Foster, is a tribute to late jazz bassist Jaco Pastorius. (via Wikipedia)
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With all of that said, this album of his, 1989's 'Amandla' (take note: this was the last studio album released in his lifetime), always seems to take criticism. People hate the fact that this album is loaded with electronic percussion and layered with 1980s synthesizers (including the Roland D-50). This album sounds "dated" and Miles' playing "lacks passion" is what many of them will say. Another criticism of this album I read somewhere is that "this album lacks the overall brilliance of 'Kind of Blue.'" Every artist's fan base has that album that they love to hate (for Bob Dylan, it's either 'Saved,' 'Down in the Groove' or 'Self Portrait;' for Yes, it's either 'Big Generator' or 'Talk;' for John Coltrane, it's either 'Ascension' or 'Interstellar Space;' you get my point). This album is the album that Miles Davis fans love to hate.
Honestly, I've never understood why. The statement that the music "lacks passion" is absolutely absurd. Listen to 'Hannibal' again and tell me that Miles Davis' playing on this track "lacks passion." Seriously. To those people, I ask (and I mean this with all due respect): Are you deaf? Miles is playing his head off on this track, like there's no tomorrow. What a way to make an exit from a recording studio. I'd venture to say that 'Hannibal' is one of Miles' best performances of the last 20 years of his career. It's emotional, raw, and simply a stunning piece of work.
The same can be said of the title track. And 'Mr. Pastorius' (an emotional tribute to the late, great jazz bassist, Jaco Pastorius) And the opening track, the African-influenced 'Catembe.' And 'Jilli.' Technically, the same can be said of the entire album. This is a fine album, and a fresh jazz album of the late 1980s. Miles was experimenting with the most high-tech technology available in 1989, and while it may sound somewhat dated in 2013, it certainly didn't back then. Considering Miles was 63 at the time of this album's release, it's pretty amazing he was able to reinvent himself in this manner (not many people can successfully reinvent themselves late into their careers -- Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen are among the few that come to mind).
Something else I've always found puzzling are the remarks that "'Tutu' was miles (no pun intended) better than this." Oh come on. 'Tutu' is a masterpiece, yes. Heck, I'll concede that 'Tutu' is a slightly (notice that word SLIGHTLY) better album than 'Amandla.' Both albums are quite similar in style, as all compositions are written and arranged by Marcus Miller and both albums employ a late-'80s style production (think of a "very big" sound if you've never heard either album). But, 'Amandla' is by no means a weak album, and it is absolutely not a significant dropoff from 'Tutu.' Not by any means. 'Amandla' is strong, musically interesting, and features exciting compositions from Miller.
Finally, there's the old criticism that it's not 'Kind of Blue.' Of course it isn't! These albums can't even be compared! 'Kind of Blue' was released in 1959, 'Amandla' in 1989. THAT'S A 30 YEAR DIFFERENCE. Times changed drastically in those 30 years. Miles was 63 in 1989, not 33 like he was in 1959. His ability to hold notes on the trumpet for a long period of time was practically gone, but his playing, feel, and emotion on the instrument were as strong as ever in '89. Also, when 'Kind of Blue' was being recorded in the late fifties, synthesizers were practically nonexistent (and they were nonexistent in the jazz world). The thought of Bill Evans playing anything remotely related to a synthesizer on a piece from 'Kind of Blue' is absolutely disturbing. 30 years later, in 1989, synths were everywhere, including in the jazz world. Miles was never a musician who was "nostalgic" -- it was always about moving forward for him. So that's just what he did, and he embraced synthesizers and the digital sounds of the decade. This album is loaded with synthesizers, so that automatically separates it from 'Kind of Blue.' Just like it is hard (I'll say impossible) to imagine 'Kind of Blue' with synthesizers, imagine 'Amandla' without them. It's almost unimaginable.
The compositions are strong, and Miles' playing is inspired throughout. Overall, don't buy into the negativity surrounding this album. It is a solid album, and for Miles' last album released in his lifetime, it's awfully strong. I often wonder what was to come in the 1990s had Miles stayed alive longer, and what direction his music would have gone. His music was moving in a hip hop direction by the early-'90s, and often wonder if he would have continued in that direction. The world will never know for sure, but there is one thing I do know: had he stayed alive, he would have gone forward, not back, and certainly would have changed and adapted with the times like he had always done.
Check out 'Amandla.' It's a surprisingly solid album, especially considering it was released in 1989 and is loaded with synthesizers. I've always loved this album, and if you enjoyed 'Tutu' and 'You're Under Arrest,' you'll love this album (contrary to what other reviewers may say). Worst case scenario, if you don't like it, sell it. But it's cheap and it's Miles Davis. What's a better combination than that?
Four stars is fitting. It's not a masterpiece, but it's certainly a great late-'80s jazz album released by arguably the finest jazz trumpeter of them all. Give it a fair listen or two.
i bought amandla to hear kenny garrett. he made a statement in some jazz magazine that he was the greatest living saxophonist, or something to that effect. i've shared that bit of self promotion with a couple of jazz listeners and the consensus is that garrett's good but nobody's giving him the bag of chips on that one.
i'm not a big fusion fan, for the most part, with some exceptions, i like my jazz straight up. from the moment amandla started, with the opening track catembe, i was bopping around the room believing i had the rhythm and the steps to get me on a tv dance show. that, i understand, is the effect of gogo. so gogo fans should be happy with this. then there's the influences of zouk, a form of caribbean music, provided by the drums, that miles wanted in the music. there's also a set-up that suggests jazz orchestration nodding toward the gil evans miles davis period, with the sound of miles' trumpet, except on mr pastorius, similar to the sound he utilized then. hearing miles play here is worth the price for listeners of miles davis.
but here's something else: put all those elements together and say, this is dance band as heady as a 40s jazz orchestra and picture lester young coming out of nowhere and taking the stand and the fellows moving off the floor near the bandstand to hear this cat wail and you'll get an idea of just what kenny garrett does. miles, or marcus miller school in the thought of miles, set him up, and in that situation garrett seizes the day and performs with high confidence. centered in the confluence he plays jazz sax. he's good here. on big time and jojo for example, you almost believe he's worth the bag of chips. but everyone looks good here because that's how miles davis wanted it.