Why was Miles Davis so reviled for his electric period?

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

  1. Kavorka

    Kavorka Chief Bottle Washer Thread Starter

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    That is debatable. What Miles put out during his 1969 - 1975 period is the very epitome of non-commercial music. His previous catalog was much more traditional sounding, and could be deemed way more commercially viable.

    Today, almost 50 years later, when you put on many of those 'fusion' records from that period, it is shocking how many tend to veer into the so-called 'soft jazz' territory. Some even resemble some non-intrusive elevator music. But not Miles. His electric stuff is still edgy, still daring, still confrontational and difficult to stomach for the uninitiated.
     
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2018
  2. frightwigwam

    frightwigwam Talented Amateur

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    There's an interview from the '70s--the one where the writer sits with Miles in his brownstone, and he has a mobile that fascinates him--in which the reporter tells Miles that he'd sat with one of Miles' old friends at the Carnegie Hall Dark Magus show, I think, and the old friend walked out because he was disgusted to see Miles spitting on stage. And Miles asks, "Didn't he know that I'd been sick?"
     
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  3. JackS

    JackS Then Play On

    It is an outstanding testament to his influence and artistry, regardless of the timetable, that Miles Davis receives this level of serious and deep attention. He stands alone , in so many ways.
    I feel lucky to have known his art and his devotion to it.
     
  4. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    Except that older music wasn't more commercially viable.

    Bitches Brew was, by far, the best contemporaneous seller Miles Davis had put out.

    It was certified Gold by the RIAA in May of 1976, six years after it's release. By contrast, Davis has only two other albums that have ever received a Gold or Platinum certifications -- Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain -- and neither one of those was certified Gold until 1993, after the CD reissue boom, 30 years after their release.

    Bitches Brew was much more commercially viable in its day than Kind of Blue or Sketches of Spain or the '60s quintet music, or anything else Davis had put out to that point.

    As a teenager in the late '70s and a rock fan then, I can tell you, Bitches Brew was the one jazz album you had if you were a rock fan who owned only one jazz album.
     
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  5. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    I gotta say, Miles was always more of a popularizer of the ideas of others and a keeper of his ears to the ground then a creator of these new styles -- deepening and experimenting with the ideas that were in the air at the time and building on the work of other was always the Miles way. He jumped on board the bebop train when he came to New York, pulled the ideas from Gil Evans and Gerry Mulligan and the Claude Thornhill gang for cool, joined with Horace Silver in pushing forward with hard bop, took the idea of George Russell and hired Bill Evans to get into a modal bag, hired Zawinul when he wanted to go electric after "Mercy Mercy Mercy" hit for Cannonball Adderly, and hired McLaughlin, who had made the great Extrapolation in early '69, when he moved on to Bitches Brew. When it came around to something like "Rated X," I actually think Miles may well have been doing the most original and unique music of his career. I don't know that anything else quite that that cut up, Automaton, but funky industrial skronk sound at the time. It took everyone else 10, 20 years to catch up with that.
     
  6. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    However you want to characterize it, it was a big chuck of the music you heard on those gigs played by a Miles Davis band with his name on the marquee, it wasn't something his players did without him....and Davis put it out on albums. It wasn't an accident or done despite Miles, who could have fired any of those cats at any time...it was HIS music.
     
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  7. frightwigwam

    frightwigwam Talented Amateur

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    The October 3, 1968, Down Beat review of Miles in the Sky observes that Miles has been pushed towards "an increasingly ironic detachment from sentiment and prettiness. Throughout this album, Miles takes material from his earlier days and darkens its emotional tone." It compares his opening solo on "Country Boy" (sic) to his "Summertime" solo on Porgy & Bess. "Paraphernalia" is called "dead-pan" and "wry," the soloists' passion in the end is "chastened rather than released." "'Stuff'... hints at rock, bossa nova, country and western, and even an occasional ballroom glide. Tony Williams plays a rock beat but spaces it out and diminishes its volume... Miles and Shorter play a theme that hints at a number of the uptempo conventions of the late '50s, but these phrases, slowed down to a walk, take on the strange grace of a man running under water." George Benson's playing on "Paraphernalia" is compared to Jimmy Raney. Getting back to "Country Boy" (sic), the "Summertime" allusion is brought up again, and the reviewer posits, "It is as if Miles were saying, 'I don't need new material. I only have to look at the old in a new way.'"

    The May 29, 1969, Down Beat review of Filles de Kilimanjaro notes that the compositions "are voiced in harmony more than has been his wont recently," and "Miles and/or his pianists seem to be atracted to the electric piano sound." It also notes "hints of the interest in rock Miles has spoken of lately; 'Frelon''s basic riff has a soupcon of R&B, and 'Mabry' has a rock-bluesy kind of tag," but also, "Williams is more restrained than usual." Finally, about Miles, "He's not playing differently; it's just that whatever he plays is always new."

    I can't find the full In a Silent Way review from October 1969, but it's 3.5 stars and the reviewer starts off by saying that he prefers to hear Miles in concert, because his recent results on record have been "impressionistic and rather tentative." They gave 5 stars to Bitches Brew, but the reviewer barely tries to describe what he hears: "Music--most of all music like this--cannot be adequately described."

    Of course, in retrospect, it all seems like quite a natural evolution. We've heard practically everything Miles recorded in the studio, and many live recordings from the time. We know where he was going, ultimately, as well as where he was coming from. Hints at different kinds of music now seem heavy with meaning. If you were somehow with him every step of the way, congratulations. I don't believe that the guys who wrote those reviews completely saw what was just ahead, and it doesn't look like their descriptions of the records really prepared listeners for Bitches Brew and Miles at Fillmore, either. They were telling people, who were listening to Four & More or Miles in Tokyo even if they had bought the latest live album, that Miles was flirting with some kinds of pop music, but he was basically the same old Miles.
     
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2018
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  8. Mr Bass

    Mr Bass Chevelle Ma Belle

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    The game of artistic influences and who led and who followed is a judgment call. Of course, it's a mistake to think that any composer starts ab ovo. Monteverdi, a premier innovator, heard the early experimental dramas by Peri and Caccini and then wrote the first operas. Sometimes composers reach back to earlier forgotten forms as Beethoven did in his later music. So Miles listened to various things like anyone then created something that defined the genre to listeners at the time. Modal jazz became an enduring style because of KOB for example.

    The funk fusion efforts of the 70s unlike Silent Way and Bitches Brew had an influence but mostly among the cognoscenti and filtered though music written a decade or more later. Some of it was only released in the latter 70s. MD's music in the 8os was mostly ignored by those same later artists even though it was current to them. One could say the same of Stockhausen's influence on certain pop psychedelic experiments. Yes in hindsight Miles' music in the 70s seems better now than it did to many at the time but that is a different matter.

    So I think we will have to agree to disagree, but I do understand these are judgments not factual questions.
     
  9. Kavorka

    Kavorka Chief Bottle Washer Thread Starter

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    Not sure how you know that. To my knowledge, a lot of the music Miles recorded was subsequently doctored by Teo Macero, in Miles's absentia. So I'm not convinced that he had full control over what the production and the publishing teams put out under his name.
     
  10. Kavorka

    Kavorka Chief Bottle Washer Thread Starter

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    Interesting observations. I fail to see what ideas, that were allegedly already buzzing around, did Miles popularize on albums like "Bitches Brew", "On the Corner", "Get Up With It" and so on? I can't think of any. Music on those albums sounded shockingly unusual and fresh back then, and it sounds equally unusual and shockingly fresh today, almost 50 years later.

    I feel we'd be damning Miles with a faint praise if we were to claim that, yeah, he was a very influential popularizer of ideas that some other, more original musicians had.
     
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  11. Kavorka

    Kavorka Chief Bottle Washer Thread Starter

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    It is interesting how many 'real time' reviews and comments fail to recognize and acknowledge the greatness of some of the music being reviewed. If we go back and peruse the music rags archives from 50 years ago, we'll find all kinds of oddball reviews. I remember reading some critic's review of the freshly released White Album by the Beatles (the review was published few days after the double album hit the stores). The reviewer was singularly unimpressed, and lamented the undeserved popularity of the Beatles, while in that critic's opinion, some lesser known acts are releasing way superior records.

    I get the same feeling reading those old 'real time' reviews of Miles's records. People back then didn't seem to think much of his magnificent output.
     
  12. Kavorka

    Kavorka Chief Bottle Washer Thread Starter

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    Yes, good point. I must admit that I was never able to understand the commercial success of "Bitches Brew". I got that record from my father when I was in my teens, and to be honest, it freaked me out and scared the bejeezus out of me. I just found it too dense, too murky and too thick for my young ears. It almost sounded like pornography, if that makes sense.

    Even today, "Bitches Brew" doesn't sound like a record that you'd expect to fly off the shelves. Like, who but a serious instrumental music aficionado, would consider purchasing that album?

    Don't even get me started on "Dark Magus"...
     
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  13. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    Nothing went out on Columbia without Miles approval, he was a major prestige artist on the label at that point, and certainly no one got hired for the band or played music Miles didn't want played on his bandstand.
     
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  14. Terrapin Station

    Terrapin Station Forum Resident

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    It didn't stop in 1975; it continued to the end of his life.
     
  15. Kavorka

    Kavorka Chief Bottle Washer Thread Starter

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    So then how come Miles fired Azar Lawrence after he played only one night at Carnegie Hall but the execs still released "Dark Magus"? Obviously, they were able to push things out despite Miles not being for it.
     
  16. Kavorka

    Kavorka Chief Bottle Washer Thread Starter

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    True. But the two electric periods (pre and post 6 years hiatus) are notably different in the level of experimentation. I am more interested in his first foray into electric amplification.
     
  17. Terrapin Station

    Terrapin Station Forum Resident

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    NYC Man
    The last period, starting with Man with the Horn, is my favorite Miles overall.
     
  18. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    Miles was a great creative artist, I'm not questioning that. And he was a unique stylist and hugely influential.

    But Zawinul played electric piano on a crossover hit for Cannonball Adderly in 66. The Dead were doing spacey jazzy rock explorations. McLaughlin did a guitar fusion album in Jan 69. It takes nothing away from Miles or the impact of Bitches Brew to note that jazz rock was in the air at the time. Charles Lloyd had success playing for a rock audience in 67 with Jarrett and DeJohnette in his band.
     
  19. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    Exactly, if he didn't like what you were doing you got fired.
     
  20. Kavorka

    Kavorka Chief Bottle Washer Thread Starter

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    But then why would Miles be okay with releasing a recording where the musician who did not cut the mustard for him is recorded playing? Doesn't make sense.
     
  21. Kavorka

    Kavorka Chief Bottle Washer Thread Starter

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    Well yeah, everything could be reduced to something that came before it. Following that logic, nothing new ever happens.
     
  22. Kavorka

    Kavorka Chief Bottle Washer Thread Starter

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    I like many of the concerts he was playing throughout the 1980s (I've attended one and was blown away). But his 1980s studio recordings are not as good as his live stuff from that period, in my opinion.
     
  23. Mr Bass

    Mr Bass Chevelle Ma Belle

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    Having started college not long after it came out, I can attest to the fact that BB was known and played by other college students. Again it was Silent Way which first attracted the attention of young otherwise non-jazz listeners. Given the psychedelic music of Jimi Hendrix and others as well as the prevalence of sonic alterations to the sound of wind instruments either in the studio or through stage effects processors, it wasn't totally out there. You are right that there was a kind of forbidding denseness at times to the music but it was not as out of place given what else was happening.
     
  24. pbuzby

    pbuzby Forum Resident

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    Dark Magus was released only in Japan (until the CD reissue in 1997). I don't know how much or little Miles had to do with it.
     
  25. Kavorka

    Kavorka Chief Bottle Washer Thread Starter

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    ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
     

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