Why was Miles Davis so reviled for his electric period?

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Kavorka, Nov 6, 2018.

  1. frightwigwam

    frightwigwam Talented Amateur

    Location:
    Oregon
    Some of Fall '69. Like Rome or Copenhagen. Even Wayne will indulge. Some of the "keyboard battles" in the June 1970 Fillmore East shows might be called unstructured, free jazz, too.
     
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  2. Kavorka

    Kavorka Chief Bottle Washer Thread Starter

    Location:
    North America
    Good clarification, and thanks for correcting me. I was speaking exclusively from the standpoint of my personal experiences, and not from any scholarly perspective.

    To me, even listening to some tracks on John Coltrane's "Live at the Village Vanguard" (I have a 3 LPs set), verges on what I'd call free jazz. Yes, Elvin Jones is bashing on his drums and McCoy Tyner is banging on his piano in a more coherent fashion, but Coltrane is, to my ears, often blowing incomprehensible lines. I'd even venture out to say that on those records, Eric Dolphy sounds way more traditional than Coltrane. While Coltrane makes me cringe and wince, Dolphy is much more pleasant and more listenable.

    I'm not a big fan of free jazz, but I adore freakouts, like what Pete Cosey is playing on side one of "Agharta". I could listen to that kind of music for hours on end.
     
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  3. Kavorka

    Kavorka Chief Bottle Washer Thread Starter

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    Yes, thanks for reminding me. True, there are amorphous episodes scattered around in those performances, but I perceive them more as some sort of a spice, to 'jazz' things up a bit. They never deteriorate into aimless ramblings, but are quickly morphed into a fresh new groove. That was the magic of Miles, that juxtaposition of the jungle beat with the atonal Stockhausen and other avant-garde contemporary 'intellectual' music.
     
  4. Kavorka

    Kavorka Chief Bottle Washer Thread Starter

    Location:
    North America
    Very good analysis. One learns so much on these forums, you guys are walking encyclopedias!

    I'd push the comparisons even further and speculate that maybe Miles and Teo were also paying attention to the Beatles/George Martin combo. You know, how the Beatles revolutionized music by being the first to start using the recording studio as another instrument? It all started with them recording "Tomorrow Never Knows" in the spring of 1966. That track turned the entire world on its ear. Then came "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "A Day In The Life", and basically the Beatles were blazing the trail (and ending everything with kick-ass "Revolution 9").
     
  5. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident


    Coltrane was a master of the new thing. And he was anything but "incoherent." And certainly not atonal. You might not comprehend it, but that doesn't mean Coltrane didn't know what he was doing. No one in jazz in the day practiced more, spent more time drilling scales and chord substitutions and harmony and tonality from Slominky's Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns, there's nothing aimless or incoherent about it Coltrane's music of the period. It's very focused.

     
  6. Kavorka

    Kavorka Chief Bottle Washer Thread Starter

    Location:
    North America
    Yes, no doubt. I love Coltrane. But not everything that he recorded. Again, to my uneducated ears, on some of the tracks from "Live at the Village Vanguard", he sounds very unpleasant. Not saying that he was ever indulging in aimless playing, just that it does not always gel with me.
     
  7. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    Well, in rock music. Les Paul and Raymond Scott had used the recording studio and multitrack recording and stuff like that as "another instrument" in the '50s. Miles was listening to classical tape music by Stockhausen, and classical composers had been using tape and sound manipulation as a compositional element since the '50s (really actually going back to wire recorders in the late '40s). I think you're coming at this from a rockcentric POV, but rock was only one input for Davis (and others) at the time. No doubt the Beatles were the biggest thing in the business and Miles always wanted to be the biggest thing in the business, and Davis and Teo were assembly the albums with kind of rock/pop style tape editing in the '70s, but Davis' inputs were much broader than rock alone (they weren't even principally rock).
     
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  8. Kavorka

    Kavorka Chief Bottle Washer Thread Starter

    Location:
    North America
    True, but by the second half of 1960 it was becoming obvious that rock is the most flexible and the most creative music in the biz. Just the Beatles alone were incomprehensibly huge, not only in terms of their widespread popularity and influence on all aspects of modern living, but also in terms of their versatility. The Beatles recorded over 200 songs, and they never ever repeated themselves. Each song they released stands as a unique piece of work. They found a magical way not to ever rehash and regurgitate what they've already done.

    Miles was of the same ilk. He hated regurgitating his old stuff. But he was, paradoxically, repeating himself a lot. So it looks like he picked the cues from the Fab Four and decided to always keep changing , and at a breakneck pace. I mean, if we just look at the four albums he released in the year 1970, they could not be more different. Miles continued with this maniacal, Picasso-like innovative creativity until he crashed and burned in 1975.
     
  9. Robitjazz

    Robitjazz Forum Resident

    Location:
    Liguria, Italy
    :winkgrin:
    I only own In A Silent Way of the electric age.
    I had Live At The Philarmonic Hall but I have shared with a live album by Woody Shaw.
    I think that Miles has been great in the first seventies, but his evolution towards funk did not convince me absolutely.
    I like much him until Fillmore recordings of 1970 whose there have been released three live albums if I'm not wrong, everyone of them with a different saxophonist (Steve Grossman, Gary Bartz, Wayne Shorter); after those albums, I don't feel him so nice to me, though certainly Miles has been very creative taking
    inspiration by contemporary music.
     
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2018
  10. ohnothimagen

    ohnothimagen I don't suffer fools or trolls gladly...

    Off the top of my head, about thirty minutes or so into the long "Gondwana" piece on Pangaea is the only time I've ever heard the Cosey-era band playing just about full-on jazz. I can picture Michael Henderson starting to play that swinging, walking bass line, Al Foster joining in, both of them thinking, "Wow- do we dare?":D before the rest of the band kicks in. Given that that band only had about another six months or so left in 'em, hearing that section of the piece can seem kinda bittersweet.
    I can think of many adjectives to describe Agharta, "cheesy" ain't one of 'em!:laugh:
    Correct- Miles' idea of "rehearsing" the Cosey-era band was basically playing Henderson his idea for the bassline on the piano and suggesting a rhythm for Foster to play.
    It's like comparing the famous bootleg of the January 22 '75 Tokyo show to Agharta/Pangaea. You can tell Miles was struggling a bit in Tokyo (though to be fair I believe it was the first date of the tour) but the rest of the band is playing so well it really doesn't matter.
    "Right Off" rocks as good as the Stones in my not so 'umble opinion. Until I heard Jack Johnson, I liked what I'd heard of Miles' music up to that point; Jack Johnson is the album that made me love the guy's music.
    The Paul Buckmaster influence. Of course when Buckmaster heard On The Corner he hated it:laugh:
     
  11. jay.dee

    jay.dee Forum Resident

    Location:
    Barcelona, Spain
    Indeed, Brötzmann's Machine Gun was actually based on rather traditional forms/structures:
     
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  12. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    This performance, from around 5 minutes in through to the end, is pretty much as free as anything cut by free jazz leaders like Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, or John Coltrane. In fact, from 8 minutes on, it sounds more like UK free improv a la Spontaneous Music Ensemble (with whom, of course, Dave Holland has been playing just a year or so before) than anything else.

    That band with Holland, Corea and DeJohnette was the freeist band Miles ever had. Holland had just come out of the UK free improv scene; DeJohnette had been involved in Chicago with the AACM, the leading force in second wave new thing jazz; and Corea was still a pretty out player, he hadn't turned to poppier diatonic improv or airy Brazilian jazz fusion, the material he would record just after leaving Davis would be the most outside of his career, including work with Anthony Braxton, a major and rivening avant garde figure.

     
  13. ATR

    ATR Forum Resident

    Location:
    Baystate
    Miles's instruction to Jack DeJohnette I believe it was at the time of the Jack Johnson recording was to 'play rock with jazz technique'. Yes, Miles was also listening to 'Steakhousen', as he called him, was reportedly 'traumatized' by hearing Hendrix's Machine Gun solo on the Band of Gypsys album, was hooked up to Paul Buckmaster and Hendrix himself via Betty Davis, appropriated bass lines from James Brown, and dressed like Sly Stone. But the reason he was 'reviled' was the same reason IMO that the avant gardists were reviled. They were renegades from the jazz tradition that preceded them, just as Bird was initially perceived and then eventually accepted as the status quo although he was always Bird. FWIW Monk also did not like Miles's directions in music, but at least that was coming from someone who had earned the right to say it. If I was asked to name the principal three innovators in Jazz from about 1965 to 1980 they would be Miles, Ornette, and Cecil. Miles Ornette Cecil: Jazz Beyond Jazz This thread has gotten well beyond the point of responding to the OP's question and into a bit of a survey of the jazz and improvised music landscape of the time, which is not an altogether bad thing. It's just that it's no longer about Miles Davis. I recommend the Chambers bio for those interested in the full span of Miles's life and music with the caveat that Chambers is someone who is a bit dismissive of the electric period. He describes it well, but just doesn't seem to enjoy it much. As for the avant garde landscape I recommend John Litweiler's The Freedom Principle or musician Joe Morris's Perpetual Frontier Joe Morris - Perpetual Frontier - The Properties Of Free Music (Riti, 2013) ~ The Free Jazz Collective I don't think you can find out enough about this music from a thread post.
     
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  14. Morfmusic

    Morfmusic Well-Known Member

    The critics thought he was selling out and pandering to the rock audience. They wanted him to stay in ''Kind of Blue'' mode forever and that was never his modus operandi as an artist. Plus that period was too abstract and abrasive for their tastes. Now that period sounds incredibly forward thinking..but back then they just could not get their heads around the electronics and all the tape editing. Too ahead of the curve..Miles ahead if you will.
     
  15. Chazro

    Chazro Forum Resident

    Location:
    West Palm Bch, Fl.
    In retrospect, maybe it seems hard to understand the negativity towards Miles's new 'electric direction' at the time, try using this exercise. Imagine, you've bought tickets to see Miles thinking that yr getting 'Kind of Blue' Miles. The whole super-cool persona coupled with that super-cool music.......and the night of the show, Tiny Tim walks out instead! THAT was the level of shock and incredulousness Miles's new direction created. A shift so powerful that we're STILL discussing it today!;)
     
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  16. frightwigwam

    frightwigwam Talented Amateur

    Location:
    Oregon
    Miles in Berlin and the My Funny Valentine ballads portion of 1964 Lincoln Center came out in '65, then the Four & More portion followed in '66. Believe it or not, the '64 Tokyo performance was released in 1969! As far as most fans knew, that's what a Miles Davis concert still sounded like, then. Meanwhile, the Second Quintet albums apparently sold OK, but they weren't huge even on the jazz charts; Wikipedia says that Nefertiti was #8 on Billboard Jazz. Some fans may have been sleeping on his late '60s albums. Even if a fan did buy Miles in the Sky or Filles, the hints at fusion were pretty subtle. And if you hadn't actually seen him in person for awhile, if at all, and you'd just been keeping up with his most recent live albums, of course it would seem as if Bitches Brew or his 1970 stage band had come right out of the blue.

    Even in 1973, Columbia released the '58 Jazz at the Plaza recording and Basic Miles, subtitled "The Classic Performances of Miles Davis," a compilation of late '50s and early '60s tracks. Prestige reissued his work for them, in a series of double-albums, in the early '70s, too. If you were going to see him play at Philharmonic Hall, Carnegie Hall, or Lincoln Center, or whatever grand theatre he might have visited in your town, you might live in hope that some of his most recent records were just experiments, or something he did for the Fillmore crowd, but surely he would play some jazz in the concert hall! He'd have to play "My Funny Valentine," at least? But it's on practically all of his live records! Why would they put out that Jazz at the Plaza if he doesn't want to play any of that stuff, anymore?! And my wife got all dressed up for a big night out, and everything. We're so angry, now!
     
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  17. jeddy

    jeddy Forum Resident

    Didn't Miles whole future 70's vibe start with
    CIRCLE IN THE ROUND? (1967)
    I mean it uses techniques he would use in In a Silent Way and beyond...
    What did people think of "Circle in the Round"
    back in the day?
     
  18. pbuzby

    pbuzby Forum Resident

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    Chicago, IL, US
    It was not released until 1979.
     
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  19. DTK

    DTK Forum Resident

    Location:
    Europe
    I don't think anything on Trane's "Live at the Village Vanguard" is as free as the late '69 lost Quintet when Miles isn't soloing. It's collective freedom, Wayne, Chick, Dave and Jack.
    Now, "Live at the Village Vanguard Again" from is definitely more free jazz than Miles' bands ever were.
     
  20. DTK

    DTK Forum Resident

    Location:
    Europe
    There's a (perhaps apocryphal) story in Ian Carr's Miles book describing a summer 1975 concert where Miles spends the whole concert playing keyboard in his unique manner, alternatively glaring at the audience, whereby an audience member goes "Play Sketches of Spain!".
    No audience tape matches such a description, although the pain in his arms apparently made holding the trumpet hard at the time.

    It's easy to forget that Miles was really, really ill and constantly on painkillers at the time he retired in late 1975 and could have died. He was a real champ and it's a testament to his love of music that he recovered and was able to extend his life and career the way he did.
     
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  21. ATR

    ATR Forum Resident

    Location:
    Baystate
    Were you around then? No one would have expected him to be fronting an acoustic quintet seeing him late 60's, very few if anyone following him was 'sleeping' on what was developing throughout Miles in the Sky and Filles de Kilimanjaro through In A Silent Way. It was not nearly the shock that for example Bob Dylan was going from solo acoustic to having a rock and roll band behind him without anyone realizing it at Newport. Everyone knew Jazz at the Plaza was simply an excellent but previously unreleased album of a band that no longer existed and did not represent what his current music sounded like. At the time, Bitches Brew was considered to be somewhat of a radical break and the Agharta band even more so. In retrospect it all seems quite natural to me, a musical artist constantly evolving and in transition.
     
  22. Kavorka

    Kavorka Chief Bottle Washer Thread Starter

    Location:
    North America
    Those, to me, were more like an accent. The band didn't play like that for an entire night. Miles liked to mix and match, and to throw in all kinds of gimmicks (even electric sitar!) But always only as an accent, a bit of an exotic spice, never to overwhelm the main body of music.

    According to the witnesses, those free freakouts happened mostly during the period when Miles wasn't on the stage with the band. He'd walk out after his solos, but as soon as he'd return to the stage, the band was back to regular programming and on their best behaviour.

    However, later on (maybe as early as 1971), Miles started conducting the band even when he was not soloing. So he was remaining on the stage all the time, and consequently, no more 'free' freakouts.
     
  23. Kavorka

    Kavorka Chief Bottle Washer Thread Starter

    Location:
    North America
    You probably haven't heard it on the domestic CD.
     
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  24. Chazro

    Chazro Forum Resident

    Location:
    West Palm Bch, Fl.
    Before anything else I'll say Miles Davis is one of my all-time great music heroes. Of the 1000's upon 1000's of musicians that've enriched my life Miles has always been close to the top. I've experienced dramatic beauty and learned about life through this man's life and music. I probably own 85-90% of all his recorded output. I'm a fan. That said, while his comebacks were indeed heroic, we can't ever forget how much Miles loved gettin' paid! While he (wisely) saw the writing on the wall when it came to 'plugging in', (I LOVE Fusion, thats all I'm gonna say!;)) Nobody will EVER convince me that Miles wasnt factoring in the ca$h when he started dressing like Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix! Most of his last releases were obvious attempts to cash in although he was dipping his toe into other projects.
     
  25. Mr Bass

    Mr Bass Chevelle Ma Belle

    Location:
    Mid Atlantic
    I was in college in the early 70s and Miles album In a Silent Way was the LP that quite a few college rock pop listeners people bought or at least listened to. I think it was that LP that put Miles back on the mix for young people for whom Kind of Blue etc were just album names. Bitches Brew was also listened to and reasonably popular in college.

    Obviously fewer people followed him on his turn to more jazz funk or fusion since Funkadelic etc were going full blast around the same time along with John McLaughlin. I think On The Corner would have puzzled such listeners. For the first time, Miles was not really leading a music style but rather was deepening it and experimenting with various ways to make it less simplistic without losing the funk character. I still have Big Fun, Agharta and Dark Magus.
     
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