A Tribute To Jack Johnson
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2005 reissue of 1992 tribute album featuring two tracks - over fifty minutes of music performed by one of the greatest jazz artists of all time.
Miles Davis was a gifted composer of film soundtracks, and this is arguably his best. Certainly it's his most listenable film piece. A boxer himself, Davis had a feel for movement in the ring, and this recording overflows with the admiration he had for the grace, style, and confidence of fighters like Sugar Ray Robinson. Jack Johnson was, for a long time, Miles's favorite of his own recordings, and you can see why from the first note: guitarist John McLaughlin steps out and strides across a shuffling groove that is closer to barroom R&B than it is to rock; Davis weighs in with that clipped but plaintive sound which promises you that no matter what kind of music he takes on next, he will always be Miles. And then when--midway through the first of two long jams--Herbie Hancock muscles his way into the mix on organ, of all things, you realize that they could go on like this forever. A joyful, liberating record. --John Szwed
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If "Right Off" ranges all over the place, the second track, "Yesternow", can risk monotony with the endlessly repeating bass line dominating its first part. The solos over it, however, are quality. Davis' initial appearance is of a lush and mellow kind more reminiscent of his mid-1960s bop than recent efforts. About halfway through, we hear a snippet of Davis' earlier album In a Silent Way which Macero inserted as a bridging segment. The second half of the track features a completely new ensemble, many from BITCHES BREW, with Sonny Sharrock providing a second guitar and Bennie Maupin playing bass clarinet. Here Davis' trumpet approaches a rhythm instrument, briefly giving a very wide space for the other instrumentalists. The last six minutes or so of the track are almost pure funk, with one guitar playing wah-wah and the other straight.
I've decided to give this album four stars because it does seem somewhat less substantial and varied than the releases preceding and following. However, this is a very entertaining effort, and may provide a path into Davis' fusion period for those who think BITCHES BREW is too noisy and convoluted (though IN A SILENT WAY works even better).
Recorded in a flash on April 7, 1970 with Billy Cobham on drums, John McLaughlin on guitar, Herbie Hancock on Organ, Steve Grossman on sax and the amazing Michael Henderson on bass, Miles had such spontaneous music flowing out in the room, he sounds like he can barely control his moment of clear inspiration. As the music smokes, he comes in and blows his trumpet into the stratosphere on 'Right Off', simply creating timeless art.
And then on the original side B, we are treated to a slow-burning psycho-funk with its insistent bass thump. 'Yesternow' is the PERFECT counterpoint to 'Right Off'. I can only say that music absolutely mattered then and thank Miles and the band for such beauty.
To many this is "not real jazz" but more like a rock album. No written melodic compositions underscore this music; the action is purely on the improvisational interplay of these virtuoso jazz musicians over rock/funk/blues rhythms; fusion at its purest. The ace rhythm section of 19-year old Michael Henderson on electric bass and Billy Cobham on drums lay down a heavy rock-funk groove on `Right Off', the explosive 27-minute opener, over which Miles' trumpet and Steve Grossman's soprano sax soar in complex patterns, ably supported by John McLaughin's raunchy guitar riffs. Miles' playing here is possibly his best-ever, full of inventive improvisational musical phrases delivered one after another with a power and conviction that pins you to the wall. Only the normally excellent Herbie Hancock is not on top form; he dropped by the studio on his way back from the grocery store and was co-opted to play a contribution on a rough-sounding Farfisa electric organ. Unprepared, he thumps out some chords and simple phrases for three minutes to fit in with the improvisation, and departs.
The album contains only two long pieces. The second `Yesternow' begins quieter in tone, builds to a crescendo and then subsides; a fine dynamic complement to the full-on `Right Off.' Here McLaughlin is on top form, his trademark super-fast guitar licks engaging in an energetic dialogue with Miles' inventive phrases on the trumpet. You can hear sections from the `In a Silent Way' recordings spliced in, and they fit with the groove of the piece.
This single-disk CD was spliced together by the excellent editing of Teo Macero from different sessions, and you have to say he did a fine job (Miles concurred with his customary bluntness by telling Teo "I like it...you did it again, motherf*****"). Macero was ahead of his time in viewing recording sessions as a film editor would treat film footage, producing a seamless and highly atmospheric piece of work edited together from several hours of improvisational playing. If you want the entire unedited originals, seek out the 5-disk box set `The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions.'