Sony Music 94398
Studio sessions: Miles Davis (trumpet, synthesiser, electric piano); Mike Stern, John Scofield, John McLaughlin (guitar); Bill Evans, Bob Berg (tenor sax, soprano sax); J.J. Johnson (trombone); Robert Irving III (keyboards); Marcus Miller, Darryl Jones (bass); Al Foster, Vince Wilburn Jr (drums); Mino Cinelu, Steve Thornton (percussion)
Live recording: Miles Davis (trumpet, synthesiser, electric piano); John Scofield (guitar); Bill Evans (tenor sax, soprano sax, flute); Darryl Jones (bass); Al Foster (drums), Mino Cinelu (percussion)
Recording date: Studio recordings – Columbia Studios, NY, 20 October 1982; The Record Plant, NY, October 1982 – January 1985; A&R Studio, NY, 30 June 1983. Live recordings: Théâtre St. Denis, Montreal, Canada, 7 July 1983
I suspect that this release will both delight and disappoint many fans of the music Miles Davis recorded and played during the 1980s. The delight comes from Sony Music releasing three-and-a-half hours of new music from this era, much of it good. But the disappointment comes from the fact that there is no material from three key albums Miles recorded with Columbia Records (as it then was) during his final decade: his comeback album, The Man with The Horn, the live album We Want Miles, and Aura, the highly acclaimed big-band collaboration between Miles and Danish trumpeter and composer, Palle Mikkelborg. For more on this, see my feature in Jazz Views.
Initial impressions are good; this is a nicely packaged release. Previous Bootleg series releases have been in the form of digipaks, but this release comes as a mini-box set, with a slip case, three discs in individually-coloured cardboard sleeves, and a 52-page, perfect bound booklet that is packed with photographs of Miles and his band members, essays, interviews and a comprehensive discography – it’s a terrific production by designer Frank Harkins.
There are interviews with five past band members – Mike Stern, Vince Wilburn Jr, John Scofield, Darryl Jones and Marcus Miller. All provide great insights into Miles, his music, and his impact on their playing. It was nice reading John Scofield describe the key role Gil Evans played on the Star People album, and Marcus Miller giving Teo Macero the credit he deserves for helping to shape Miles’s music (a photomontage includes a picture of Macero sitting in his office at Columbia Records).
Steve Berkowitz, one of the set’s producers, talks about Miles’s 80s era. An essay by the acclaimed writer and cultural critic Gregory Tate, tracks Miles’s long musical journey, including the 1983 Montreal concert in this set. Sadly, Tate died in 2021, not long after this project was announced. This release is dedicated to him.
Another essay is by music writer Marcus J Moore, who talks about Miles’s return to the music scene in the 1980s. One line in his essay brought me up fast: “Now for the elephant in the room: Fans bristle when they talk about Miles Davis’s work in the 80s. They compare him to a once-great athlete who stayed around too long…”
All fans? There are many fans – including this writer – who consider the 80s to be Miles’s best era. By best, I mean the music that makes the strongest connection with them. I can appreciate the brilliance of albums such as Kind of Blue, Bitches Brew and Miles Smiles, but I would still rather listen to Star People, The Man With The Horn and Tutu – and I know there are many other fans of the same mindset.
Moore also claims that: “People condemned this era [the 80s] because the previous ones were that groundbreaking. Records like Kind of Blue and Bitches brew are still highly-regarded works that are studied by nascent jazz musicians.” I would suggest that Tutu was a groundbreaking work. In his interview, Marcus Miller acknowledges that the music of the 1980s is not in the same classic vein as Kind of Blue, but adds that: ‘There are college courses taught on the records by Miles in the 80s. I know for a fact that there are kids who are so inspired by that music that other people have just dismissed.” As Vince Wilburn Jr notes in his interview: “The 80s were an important chapter, musically, to [Miles].” This also applies to many of his fans.
The four-year period covered in this collection is spread over just three CDs – two of the CDs feature studio outtakes and alternative versions, and each disc runs for a little over an hour, leaving space for another 15-20 minutes of music on each disc. The third disc features a concert from 1983 and lasts for 78 minutes.
With one exception, all the previous Miles Davis releases in the Bootleg series featured four discs, either four music CDs, or three CDs and a DVD (the exception was Freedom Jazz Dance: The Bootleg Series Vol. 5, a three-disc release which essentially focused on the sessions for the album Miles Smiles), so having just three discs devoted to this period is disappointing, especially as there is so much more music that could have been included. It’s also a shame that two of the discs weren’t devoted to live material, leaving the third for outtakes. Incidentally, for collectors and vinyl addicts, there are also double LP versions, one featuring the studio session material and the other, the live recording.
The first disc features ten tracks, although there are only five tunes, as most of them have been edited or split into two or three parts. The first eight tracks are from sessions for the 1983 album Star People, a record many regard as being one of Miles’s best of the decade. It was certainly an interesting period for Miles and his music. It was a time when both Miles’s band and his music were in transition. In the studio with Miles were his core comeback band, featuring Mike Stern on guitar, Bill Evans, saxes and flute, Marcus Miller, bass, Al Foster, drums, and percussionist Mino Cinelu.
A second guitarist, John Scofield was also present (he joined the band in November 1982), although he doesn’t feature on any of the Star People session tracks on this disc – he plays on a couple of tracks on the Star People album. At the time, Miles had no specialist keyboard player, so he also played keyboards on-stage and in the studio (in concert, Bill Evans was occasionally give a solo slot on electric piano). For years, Miles had played the organ and electric piano, but by the time it came to these sessions, he was also playing an Oberheim OB-Xa synthesiser.
Miles admitted in interviews at the time, that he wasn’t an expert synth player, and he mainly played pads (sustained notes or tones), stabs or simple riffs. Nevertheless, his synth playing added a rich mix of colours, tones, energy and moods to the music (although John Scofield once noted that Miles would sometimes randomly play a loud, sustained note on the Oberheim – right in the middle of someone’s solo).
Star People consisted of driving jazz-funk numbers and the blues. It was also an album of lasts – the last time Miles worked with his erstwhile producer Teo Macero, and long-time friend and arranger Gil Evans, and the last sessions for the band with Marcus Miller (he of course, reunited with Miles in 1985 for the Tutu album). It was also the last time Miles worked creatively in the studio with his working band, building the music up from scratch – for future albums, Miles would rarely attend rehearsals or tracking sessions.
Looking at the track list, I was disappointed to find that full versions of the two live tracks featured on Star People, ‘Come Get It’ and ‘Speak,’ were not included. In both cases, Macero had edited the tunes partly for creative purposes, but also for reasons of space (at the time, the LP record was the main music carrier and limited to about an hour’s playing time – Star People runs for 59 minutes). ‘Come Get It ‘ was trimmed by around four minutes, omitting Bill Evans’ soprano sax solo, while ‘Speak’ was more radically shaped and edited, with its running time cut by almost half. It would have been nice to compare Macero’s edited versions with the unabridged concert performances.
What’s more, ‘Speak’ remains the only official release of the two-guitar line-up of Stern and Scofield that Miles had between November 1982 and June 1983. This band featured three different superb bassists – Marcus Miller, Tom Barney and Darryl Jones – and it would have been good to have had live material from these line-ups. On the Star People album, the blues track featuring Scofield, ‘It Gets Better,’ lasts for 11 minutes, but a 19-minute version has emerged, although it’s not on this release. Also recorded during the sessions was a slow blues number, featuring a long solo guitar intro by Mike Stern, and some fine playing by Miles on muted trumpet. This track has not been released. From what Mino Cinelu told me in an interview, there is plenty more material around from these sessions.
Let’s look at the music we do get. The opening track on CD 1 is called ‘Santana’ in honour of the guitarist, who was also a friend of Miles. But whether Miles named this tune – and the other newly-released material – or if new titles were given after his death (as were some titles on the Complete On The Corner Sessions boxed set) is unclear.
The tune opens with the swirling sound of the Oberheim OB-Xa, before breaking out into a hard, driving rhythm and Miles playing what sounds like the motif from another tune found on the second disc of this release, ‘Hopscotch.’ The motif is also played by the guitar and bass in unison. In fact, my first impression was that the tune sounded like a hybrid of ‘Hopscotch,’ (the motif) and ‘Star On Cicely’ (the driving rhythm), the closing track on Star People.
My suspicions were confirmed by the noted Miles discographer Enrico Merlin, who has observed that ‘Hopscotch’ was derived from the first theme of ‘Star On Cicely’ when the tune was played live (Macero edited out the first theme on the album version). So perhaps ‘Star On Cicely/Hopscotch’ would be a more accurate title?
Whatever, it’s an exciting opener, and Miles – playing muted trumpet – is in fine lip (after a ragged opening riff), playing some lovely Spanish-type figures, with touches of vibrato, around the four-minute mark and reminding me of his fine playing on the soundtrack album Siesta. Bill Evans plays a short but well executed soprano sax solo, with Miller switching to a new funk bass line. In fact, one of the highlights of this track is Miller’s bass playing, with its flowing lines, superb tone and inventive fills. No wonder Miles was sorry to see him leave the band. Credit too, to Foster’s muscular drumming and Cinelu’s energetic percussion.
At around the six-minute mark is a short synthesiser interlude, which will be familiar to anyone who has heard the title track of Star People, because it’s the same interlude grafted onto the front of the tune, minus Mike Stern’s delicate guitar figures, which were added later. Straight after the interlude, the music switches to a harder, aggressive, more urgent sound, as Miles plays open horn, his trumpet shrieking towards the stratosphere, and Cinelu’s, rapid, rattling percussion high up in the mix. Stern plays angry, slashed chords followed by a solo full of fast runs, lightening arpeggios and screaming lines. The energy level remains high until the song reaches the coda, where it finishes with the return of the synthesiser interlude.
As an aside, the recording date for this session is given as 1 January or 2 January 1983. On New Year’s Eve 1982, the band had played a concert at The Felt Forum in New York (it would be nice to see this gig officially released). So no New Year celebrations for this band – Miles could be a hard taskmaster!
‘Minor Ninths’ is a slow, moody, atmospheric piece, divided into two parts, and derived from a ten-minute duet between Miles on electric piano and J.J. Johnson on trombone, which was recorded in October 1982. Johnson (who died in 2001) is regarded as one of jazz’s greatest trombonists and first recorded with Miles on a Charlie Parker session in 1947 (what I’d give to have heard the two of them talking about that gig!). Johnson played with Miles a number of times during the 40s, 50s and 60s, his last gig with Miles being almost 20 years earlier on sessions that became the Quiet Nights album.
Miles plays a simple, ascending/descending riff which Johnson blows over, tenderly in Part 1 of the tune, and with more power and energy during Part 2. It’s more of a jam than a proper tune, but it’s good to hear two old musical associates reunite. It was rare for Miles to play with the trombone after 1963, when Dick Leith from the Gil Evans Orchestra played it on the tune ‘The Time of the Barracudas.’ In the 80s the trombone returned again on the album Aura (released in 1989), and in 1991, at the Montreux Jazz Festival, when Miles played the old Gil Evans’ arrangements. Marcus Miller also used sampled trombones in the track ‘Tutu.’
‘Celestrial Blues’ is a mid-tempo piece, divided into three parts, which seem to have been edited from a single take, with Part 2 being the final section of the tune. It’s in the same vein as ‘U ‘n’ I,’ the penultimate tune on Star People, with a loping, chugging rhythm (though slightly more sedate than ‘U’n’I’) and Miles playing its waggish theme on muted trumpet. There’s a playful quality to the music, and to me, it sounds like ideal theme music for a comedy sitcom.
The three parts total 18 minutes but the song is not that interesting and doesn’t justify this length. Part 1 picks up when Bill Evans plays a tenor sax solo, and the end of Part 2 includes some nice studio banter between Miles and Teo Macero. The best section is the six-minute Part 3, which includes some gutsy playing by J.J. Johnson on trombone, whose presence really lifts the band and the music – the tune really starts to swing.
‘Remake of OBX Ballad’ is a five-minute long tune that has Miles just playing keyboards (the Oberheim OBX-a, and it also sounds as if an electric piano is overdubbed) along with Evans, Stern, Miller, Foster and Cinelu. The song opens with Miles playing light, airy, sweeping, swirling textures on the Oberheim.
Bill Evans plays a sweet melody on soprano sax, accompanied by some sparse, melodic bass playing by Miller. I found Evans’ soprano sax sound on The Man With The Horn a little sharp for my ears, and in fairness to him, the tenor sax is his main instrument. However, I must say that the maturity of his playing is self-evident on this song, because his tone sounds good and it’s a lovely performance.
Al Foster taps out a steady beat and Cinelu adds rattling castanets and conga drums in places. Around the two-minute mark, the tempo shifts up a notch and Miller plays a harder-edged and busier bass line. A short bass riff heralds Stern’s short solo before long synth lines play out the tune and Miller plays a concluding riff, joined by Cinelu’s rattling castanets.
‘Remake of OBX Ballad (full studio session)’ is a seven minute continuation of the above track, which starts with Evan’s soprano sax and Miller’s quasi-walking bass riff, before the bassist plays an extended solo over Miles’s swirling synth lines and Foster’s tapped beat. Miller plays with much fluency and feeling. Stern follows with a long solo, which is broken by a keyboard interlude, before the music picks up again, and Stern continues his solo, ending it with slow, graceful phrases. The coda is similar to Part 1.
Decoy – Miles’s first album after ending his working relationship with Teo Macero – was a mix of jazz-funk and the blues, with just a dash of avant garde. Decoy was a shorter album (less than 40 minutes) than both Star People and The Man With The Horn, each of which are close to an hour long. Miles brought in specialist keyboard player Robert Irving III for the sessions, (he had also played on The Man With The Horn), as well as Branford Marsalis on soprano sax. However, only Irving (credited with drum programming) is on the single studio cut from the sessions, ‘Freaky Deaky.’
Irving says there was a shortage of material for the album, which is why two live tracks, ‘What It Is’ and ‘That’s What Happened,’ were added (the full versions of these tunes are on disc 3 of this package) and why there is only one tune from the Decoy sessions on this release. That said, Scofield claims there is an unused track recorded with Branford Marsalis, and Irving says a jam session that was a variation on the album title track was recorded. Neither appears on this release.
‘Freaky Deaky’ was the fourth track on the Decoy album, and on the released version, Miles only played keyboards. It was the first tune Miles ever produced , and also Darryl Jones’s first recording session with Miles. The album version sounds quirky, spacious and minimalist, with Jones playing a continuous rolling bass line along with Miles’s meandering synth lines and Cinelu and Foster’s percussive effects. The track has both its fans and detractors (Miles biographer Paul Tingen described it as: ‘One of the most bizarre tracks [Miles] has ever recorded’), but Scofield loved the tune, and in fact, it’s his personal cassette recording of this take, which has been included here.
The take included on this disc is a blues version divided into two parts – the first being almost ten minutes long and the second, five minutes. Part 1 opens with Scofield playing a wah-wah riff which gives a humorous quality to the sound, and Jones plays a simple bass line, different from the rolling one. The highlight is when Miles plays a solo on open horn. John Scofield says the solo reminds him of Miles’s playing of old, and in particular, the 1954 tune ‘Walkin.’’ It certainly sounds good.
Around two-minutes, Jones reverts to the rolling bass line and Miles plays a long solo with the mute, followed by an extended solo by Scofield, who starts off with the wah-wah effect, before switching to a clean guitar tone. It’s a fine performance by the guitarist – soulful, bluesy and angular. After the song’s conclusion, Miles can be heard asking to listen to the playback. It’s a shame Miles didn’t also include this version on the album – there was certainly space for it. Part 2 is given over to a long guitar solo by Scofield, accompanied by Miles playing a variety of stabs on the Oberheim. The piece ends with Miles making a brief comment to Mino Cinelu, and then adding, ‘Freaky Deaky, the name of that number is Freaky Deaky!’ It’s another enjoyable performance and good to have on this release.
Disc 2 is devoted to sessions from the 1985 album You’re Under Arrest. The album’s original concept was for Miles to play the pop tunes of the day, with arrangements by Gil Evans. But by the time the album was released, its form had radically changed. First, Miles was in a hurry to record the album (straight after these sessions, he headed to Denmark to record sessions for the Aura album), but Evans was a slow, meticulous worker, and also had commitments of his own, including working on arrangements for the Absolute Beginners soundtrack.
As a result, Robert Irving III did the majority of transcriptions and arrangements (Scofield did some transcriptions too), and also produced the album with Miles. According to Scofield, dozens of tunes were transcribed, including songs from DeBarge, Dionne Warwick, Tina Turner, Kenny Loggins, Nik Kershaw, Roberta Flack and Chaka Khan, although not all were recorded. Miles had originally envisioned an album of ballads, but after listening to the recordings, decided to scrap the original concept and record more uptempo tunes.
Only three songs from the pop sessions made it onto the resulting album: Michael Jackson’s ‘Human Nature,’ Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Time After Time,’ and D-Train’s ‘Something’s On Your Mind.’ The first two tunes were soon a central part of Miles’s concert repertoire, and both were performed live more than 300 times – ‘Time After Time’ right up until Miles’s last gig at the Hollywood Bowl on 25 August 1991.
The studio band for You’re Under Arrest was different from that for Decoy. Bill Evans and Mino Cinelu were replaced by Bob Berg and Steve Thornton respectively, and Al Foster would be replaced part way through the sessions by Vince Wilburn Jr. The first two songs on Disc 2 are alternative versions of ‘Time After Time.’ The album version lasts 3:39, and an extended 12-inch version played for 5:32. The first version on this set is an early take of the song, lasting just under six minutes.
There are some striking differences between it and the album version. The song is played at a brisker tempo, driven by Al Foster’s cross-stick driven beat, which sets up a metronome-like groove. The drums are also very prominent in the mix and the opening plaintive cry of Miles’s horn is missing. Miles plays tenderly on muted horn, capturing the song’s melancholy theme of a troubled relationship. John Scofield also plays a short solo, which is absent from the album version. It’s a pleasant performance, but the reshaped version on the album sounds better, especially with its modified drum track, which is also much lower in the mix.
The second recording of ‘Time After Time’ is a greatly extended version, lasting almost nine minutes and sounding just like the released version, except with many more choruses. Miles plays muted horn throughout and it ends with some nice playful flurries at the conclusion. It’s a fine rendition, but an alternate take, lasting 8:42 exists. On this, Miles switches to open horn towards the end (as he often did in concert), increasing the song’s drama and emotional punch. It’s a shame this version wasn’t used instead.
The third tune, the uptempo ‘Theme From Jack Johnson,’ is from the Agharta album, and derived from a riff played on ‘Right Off’ on the album Jack Johnson (it’s at 18:49). On Your Under Arrest, the track lasts 4:34 and is titled ‘One Phone Call/Street Scenes’. However, this version is the song’s backing track and lasts 8:30.
On the album version, Miles created a mini-drama to go with the music, the scenario being a black man stopped by the police for driving a Ferrari and suspected of carrying drugs. Miles shortened the track and added several guest vocalists and various sound effects (police car sirens, squealing car tyres, clicking handcuffs and so on).
Miles played two characters – himself and an arresting police officer, while pop star Sting spoke the words of one of the other characters – a French police officer reading Miles his rights. Initially, the music sounds a bit strange without all the familiar extras, but it has a great groove – Al Foster and Darryl Jones are a tight rhythm unit – and John Scofeld’s spiky guitar solo is much extended on this version.
‘Never Loved Like This’ was written by Miles and Robert Irving III. This is a studio demo featuring Miles on trumpet, Robert Irving III, keyboards, Darryl Jones, bass and Vince Wilburn Jr, drums. This is one of the highlights for me, a sparse, tender ballad with a lovely melody, which Miles plays with great fragility and sensitivity on open horn. It’s a moving performance and a shame it wasn’t released much earlier, even in this demo form.
‘Hopscotch’ is a jazz-funk tune Miles played in concert from late 1982 until summer 1986. Until now, a studio version has been unavailable (live versions can be found on The Complete Miles Davis at Montreux CD boxed set and the DVD release). There are two recordings of ‘Hopscotch’ a 5:34 slow version and a 7-minute fast version. In both cases, the tune essentially consists of Miles playing a short riff on muted horn followed by the guitar and sax responding with the head. This call-and-response structure is repeated throughout the tune.
The studio versions sound mediocre when compared with the live performances of the song, where Miles introduced a percussion-driven bridge, followed by a percussion solo or a bass solo – or sometimes both. Listen to say, the live performance of ‘Hopscotch’ on disc 3 of this package, or head to YouTube and check out the Montreux concert on the evening of 14 July 1985, (again featuring Darryl Jones), or on 1 November 1985 in Berlin, with Steve Thornton and Marilyn Mazur on percussion, and Angus Thomas on bass – there is an energy and an excitement that is missing from the studio cuts.
The next cut is from the abandoned pop sessions and is a cover version of Tina Turner’s hit, ‘What’s Love Got To Do With it.’ It starts out as a slow ballad, with Irving playing some pretty flute effects on synthesiser and Miles on muted horn. When the song reaches the chorus, it switches to a quasi-reggae groove. It’s a pleasant enough cover, but one can see why it made way for other tunes on the album – and why Miles only played the song live three times in late 1984, before dropping it from the set-list.
The credits for the 6-minute alternate version of ‘Human Nature’ list Vince Wilburn Jr, as the drummer. That’s because Foster walked out of the sessions during this tune’s recording. In his autobiography, Miles recalled how Foster had grown tired of playing the kind of drumming he wanted (a constant heavy backbeat, sometimes in tandem with a drum machine), and so Miles asked his nephew Wilburn Jr (who was in the studio and had played drums on two tracks on The Man With The Horn) to take over on the drums. He would remain in Miles’s band until spring 1987. However, Foster would return later to play on ‘Mr Pastorius’ on Miles’s 1989 Amandla album, and at the 10 July 1991 Paris concert, ‘Miles and Friends,’ which reunited Miles with many old band members, just three months before his death.
‘Human Nature’ starts with Miles, Darryl Jones and Wilburn Jr discussing the song arrangement (Wilburn Jr says, ‘Munch [Jones’ nickname] we had another vamp on it.’), before the start of a new, extended intro, featuring a slow bass/drum groove, with Jones busily popping strings, and Irving playing a creeping, ascending line on synthesiser, punctuated with a catchy little riff. At 53 seconds, Wilburn Jr counts off and clicks his drum sticks – as on the start of the album version. The song continues in the same vein as the released version, but with around an extra minute added at the end. It comes to a complete stop rather than fading out like the album version.
When Miles was recording the You’re Under Arrest album, at Record Plant studio in New York, he discovered that John McLaughlin was in town with his then partner, concert pianist Katia Labèque. Always keen to work with the guitarist, Miles asked McLaughlin to come to the studio with his guitar. McLaughlin arrived on 10 January 1985 and played on the tune ‘Ms Morrisine.’ Eager to make the most of the guitarist’s presence, but having no other tunes for him to play on, Miles asked Irving to isolate a motif from ‘Ms Morrisine’ (it’s at 38-44 seconds) and use it as the basis for a vamp for a new song.
In fact, ‘Kartia’ is more of a high-energy jam session than a song, but it’s still a thrilling performance. The album consists of two versions – ‘Katia Prelude,’ a 40-second excerpt, and the full track ‘Katia,’ lasting a little under eight minutes. This version called ‘Katia (Full Session)’ lasts 10:23. Interestingly, Miles suggested in an interview that he edited the track to half its original length, implying a running time of around 15 minutes, while engineer Ron Lorman thought the jam session lasted about ‘half an hour.’
Whatever, it’s great to get the extra material, which includes a new intro: Jones thumps out the motif, Wilburn strikes his electronic drums and McLaughlin enters, playing angry, slashed chords, laced with distortion. At 1.36 we reach the section where the song fades in on the album full version. Miles plays some muted trumpet in some sections, which was edited out of the released version. Jones and Wilburn Jr set-up a great groove, Thornton adds lots of percussive sounds (especially on timbale), and Irving plays an assortment of lines and effects. The song ends without the whistle blast and ‘spacey’ synth sounds heard at the coda on the album version, which were added later. McLaughlin’s presence really galvanised the band and it’s a high octane performance – and a thrilling ending to the disc.
It would be nice to hear more material from these sessions, especially the title track, ‘You’re Under Arrest,’ composed by Scofield (who originally called it ‘The Back Room.’ – Miles gave it the new title). The band really smoke on the album version, but the track was heavily edited according to the late Bob Berg, who told me his blistering sax solo was radically trimmed back. Let’s hope we get to hear the full version one day.
Looking back on the Decoy period, Bill Evans once commented: ‘I always thought we could do a great live record if they just recorded one of our good concerts and put it out that way.’ Well now, he has finally got his wish, and Evans is right – the band sounded its best on the stage, where many tunes were enhanced, extended, adapted and energized.
The third disc is devoted to a gig at the International Jazz Festival in Montreal on 7 July 1983. Miles’s band was a sextet and had recently undergone a couple of changes. Bassist Darryl Jones joined the line-up a month earlier, when the band also included a second guitarist, Mike Stern. But Stern left the band a week before this concert. The band consisted of Miles on trumpet and keyboards; Bill Evans saxes and flute; John Scofield guitar; Darryl Jones bass; Al Foster drums and Mino Cinelu, percussion.
The repertoire was a mix of old and new – four tunes from Star People, including two blues numbers, ‘Jean-Pierre’ from We Want Miles, plus some new material. John Scofield is credited as co-composer with Miles for three songs: ‘Speak [That’s What Happened]’, ‘What It Is’ and ‘Hopscotch,’ because his solos were transcribed and used as themes in these tunes.
The band kicks off with a 12-minute version of ‘Speak.’ (titled ‘Speak [That’s What Happened]’. Miles starts off playing a brief, skittish riff on synthesiser, before the band enters, with a crashing drum and percussion intro, and Scofield’s snarling, aggressive guitar riff. Miles plays a short phrase on open horn and then Jones and Foster lock into a chugging funk groove, over which Miles adds lines from the Oberheim OB-Xa synthesiser, sometimes simultaneously playing stabs on both trumpet and keyboard.
Miles plays strongly throughout on open horn – occasionally soaring towards the upper register. Indeed, one of the many pleasing features of this concert is how little Miles uses the mute. Both Evans and Scofield play superb extended solos, and it’s the sound of a band that is really fired up. For the Decoy album, the tune was edited at the 9:18 point, with the remaining 3:31 appearing on the album as ‘That’s What Happened.’ Quite why Miles didn’t include the complete performance is a bit of a mystery, especially as the Decoy album had sufficient space for it.
The slow blues ‘Star People’ highlights Miles’s playing and illustrates how much his confidence and technique had progressed since the early days of his comeback, when his shaky chops were clearly evident. On this number he displays much power, energy and emotion, with fast runs, flurries and dramatic blasts – it’s a strong performance. John Scofield plays a long solo, steeped in the blues, firing off notes like sparks shooting from a fast-moving lathe. The third number ’What It Is’ was also included on Decoy, but was treated to some post-production work. ‘What It Is’ is an uptempo jazz-funk number driven by Jones’s ferocious thumped bass line and Foster’s pounding backbeat. In concert, the tune segued from ‘Star People’ and began with Scofield playing the head on guitar.
However, the original version differs from the album version in several ways. The latter begins with Jones’s thumping bassline, which was isolated and then tagged onto the front of the track. Bill Evans’ soprano sax solo was also cut, and Miles dubbed a second trumpet in the studio. The additional trumpet came about because, although Miles liked the track, he wasn’t completely happy with his trumpet solo. Because the track was a pre-mixed stereo recording, Miles couldn’t erase his old solo and start afresh. But he wondered if a second trumpet could be added to fill in the spaces. Miles rehearsed a new solo, which overlapped the original. There was no intention to use the new solo, but when Miles heard the playback, he decided to add it. Here is the unadorned version and it still sounds great.
The second blues number ‘It Gets Better’ is a showcase for Evans and Scofield, who in some sections, play the melody together. They are also given long solos. Evans plays a swinging solo on tenor, galvanising Jones and Foster to pick up on the groove, his sax sound breaking out like a burst of sunshine. Scofield’s guitar solo is, in places, literally solo – the rest of the band drops out. He’s a sublime player, with slow, graceful lines and inventive phrasing. For me, he was the best guitarist Miles had during his last ten years – and Miles had some terrific guitarists.
‘Hopscotch’ is played with much more fire than the studio version, with Jones’s rapid funk bass line, Cinelu’s pounding timbale and Miles’s horn screaming and soaring. Cinelu is given a long conga drum solo slot (the last three and a half minutes or roughly half the tune are given up to it), which includes his trademark slurred drum sound, created by wetting a finger with his tongue and rubbing it along the drum head.
‘Star On Cicely’ begins with Miles playing the theme on muted horn, which Scofield then repeats on wah-wah guitar. The tune is played a slower tempo than the album and the highlight is an explosive solo from Scofield. The concert favourite ‘Jean-Pierre’ has the crowd screaming with delight as Miles plays the opening theme on muted trumpet and then the audience clap along to the beat. Jones’s bass pops wildly as Miles plays the melody. When Miles switches to open horn the tension rises and the band plays with even more fire and spirit.
The last two tracks are both abstract, fractured and a bit of enigma, with this concert seemingly the only time Miles played them live. The first number is ‘Code 3.’ Don’t ask me where this title came from. Code 3 is used to denote an emergency vehicle on call, with blaring sirens and flashing lights. The third track on Decoy was called ‘Code MD’… but your guess is as good as mine. The first three and a half minutes are a continuation of ‘Jean-Pierre’ and include a scorching tenor sax solo by Evans.
Foster and Jones then lay down a heavy funk beat and Scofield enters with a short ascending riff – the closest thing to a theme – that is doubled up by the sax. Miles plays a scurrying phrase on open horn and the riff returns. Miles plays more horn, stretching to reach towards the upper register. Then Scofield solos, firing off shards of notes, before playing the riff again with Evans, before Miles plays more open horn. A trumpet blast brings the tune to its conclusion.
The final track, ‘Creepin In’ is well-named, as the music seems to creep along. It starts with Scofield playing the ‘Hopscotch’ theme and Miles comping on electric piano. Jones plays a funk bass riff and Miles, a snatch of open horn, before Scofield and Evans (on flute) play the ‘Hopscotch’ theme again. Evans plays a tender flute solo, and weird sound effects (courtesy of the OBX-Xa) flitter in and out. This section brings to mind some the abstract music Miles played in the 70s. Jones then plays a circular riff (accompanied by some trumpet blasts), before Miles plays a sustained note on synthesiser, and the tune winds down with Scofield firing off a series of ear-piercing guitar lines. The disc ends with the audience applauding enthusiastically.
For me, Disc 3 is the undoubted highlight of the set and the disc I suspect will get played the most frequently by many listeners. One hopes that Sony Music/Columbia Records will release more live material from this era in the future. It’s always great to have more new music from Miles’s final decade, and this three-disc set is a good release. But with a little more material from this era, it could have easily been an excellent addition to Miles’s musical legacy.
Reviewed by George Cole
With thanks to all the superb Miles discographers: Enrico Merlin, whose 80s discography can be found in Paul Tingen’s book Miles Beyond and website.
Jan Lohman, author of The Sound of Miles Davis; Peter Losin, curator of the Miles Ahead website, and Klaus Werner founder of the Kind-of-Blue.de website, now managed by Peter Michael Probst.
The fruits of their work were used throughout this review.