Updated date:

Discovering Miles Davis Through His Jazz Rock and Funk Music


Not Your Grand Dad's Jazz

I am still amazed at how many people don't fully grasp what Miles Davis' legacy is all about. So many still only have this vision of the Italian suit wearing Miles circa 1959.

Albums like Kind Of Blue, and Sketches of Spain, landmarks in jazz, and both had massive cross over appeal. Most people don't know that Miles revolutionized jazz at least 5 times during his lifetime. The last time he did it, was what I wasn't aware of until the mid 90's.

Count me as one of those who didn't have a clue about the organic and breathtakingly original electric music he created from 1969 to 1975. This fusion of jazz, funk, rock, electronica is still being figured out as to what its legacy is.

In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew both important landmark albums for jazz rock. The funk fusion street wise sound of On The Corner was hated by critics in its time. These albums may shock your sensibilities, they just might lead you to the revelation I had, Miles Davis and his music is not dead museum music, but music for today, with fire and passion, influencing a myriad of genres in the 21st century.

I'll share with you some really good albums below that you might like, they just might get you on your way into the music of Miles Davis.

Bitches Brew Cover and Vinyl

Bitches Brew Cover and Vinyl

You Might Be Swept Away By the Electric Music of Miles Davis

If you are an instrumental rock fan, say a fan of some of the over the top progressive metal of Dream Theater, or some of Steven Wilson's solo work, or his band Porcupine Tree, you might be able to wiggle your listening habits into Miles Davis' 69-75 period.

Don't get me wrong though, you're not going to confuse Miles' "Spanish Key" with anything on Dream Theater's Images and Words. But rather you'll appreciate the musicianship and at time freewheeling rock meets jazz arrangements that Miles and his various bands put together.

Albums like Bitches Brew, Get Up With it, and Big Fun are loaded with lengthy stretched out playing that could possibly blow your mind. Guitarists like John McLaughlin, Pete Cosey, and Reggie Lucas should be mentioned with any of the rock gods you worship. I'll take John McLaughlin and Pete Cosey any day over some of the wank fest shredders out there.

If you dig Soft Machine, Caravan, or Colosseum, I bet you could get into Miles, and perhaps other jazz rock like Return To Forever, and Al Di Meola.

The One Electric Album to Start With: Get Up With It

The album I recommend from Miles Davis above all others for the rock fan exploring new sounds is the double album Get Up With It. A thoroughly enjoyable mixed bag of everything but the kitchen sink.

There's jazz funk, jazz rock, experimental jazz and funk fusions, electronic ambient styles, and even a few straight ahead rock or R&B flag wavers. Tracks like "Honky Tonk", "Red China Blues", and "Billy Preston" will be the easy to digest.

The most bizarre track is the proto-drum and bass "Rated X". This track is a tough listen, and certainly foreshadows drum and bass work outs in the future.

Then tracks like the 30 minutes a piece, "Calypso Frelimo", with it swirling funk and rock workout, and the ambient, ahead of its time "He Loved Him Madly" will take some time to dig into, but well worth the time.

Of all the electric albums, Get Up With It has become my favorite, and sort of the pinnacle of the electric music. A Tribute To Jack Johnson is second on my list, Followed by both of the Live Japan concerts Agharta and Pangaea.

Honestly, I can't think of any of the 69 to 75 albums not worth owning. I should mention Bitches Brew should be looked at a little more carefully, it's not nearly as commercial as some reviewers say. In A Silent Way though is much easier for a rock fan to dig. Much softer and ambient than the avant-garde at time Bitches Brew.

Bitches Brew might take you a while to warm to, with really only one track "Miles Runs The Voodoo Down" as the one true commercial sounding track, with it;s Sly and the Family Stone kinky bass groove. Miles absolutely kills the trumpet solo on that track by the way. One of the best of his entire career.

"Honky Tonk" From Get Up With It

Big Fun: Droning Double Slabs of Jazz Rock

Big Fun indeed: Miles was so ahead of the curve, these outtakes were from sessions released from 1969 and 1972, and not released until 1974. Big Fun was barely noticed at the time, 26 years later the digital remaster was released on CD.

Finally I think enough time has passed to give this music the needed space to catch up with the rest of the world's recorded music.

So many things of note within the Electric music of Miles Davis: Producer Teo Macero's Production techniques were way ahead of their time, and the overall combination of Indian instruments with rock and funk, must have seemed bizarre even for jazz rock?

There is no point denying how imperfect Big Fun is, at times it does feel thrown together like some cosmic stew of international sounds.

Big Fun has an interesting production technique from producer Teo Macero, who seems completely thrilled with just trying out every new gizmo and gadget Columbia Records could dream up in the studio.

Oh how fun this time period must have been, how exciting to create and break new ground on the fly like Miles did during the 70's.

The most overtly funky track from Big Fun is "Ife", a repetitive bass drone track that sounds like could have been on the On the Corner album. The rest of the album to my ears sounds like Bitches Brew Outtakes. especially "Go Ahead John".

The first time I heard "Go Ahead John", it nearly drove me crazy. Teo Macero's channel switcher on Jack Dejohnette's drums all most ruined it for me. Years later I happened to give the track another shot, but this time without head phones.

The isolation of the headphones made the effect almost tortuous to me. "Go Ahead John" turns out to be a fantastic 27 minute long dirge. It also features only 5 musicians, Davis on trumpet, John McLaughlin on guitar, Steve Grossman on sax, Dave Holland on Bass, and Jack Dejohnette on drums.

Also it is worth noting that "Go Ahead John" has no keyboard of any kind, it also comes from the Jack Johnson recording sessions. It's hard for me to convey exact musical terminology, as I am not a formally trained musician, but I hear a lot of late 60's funky James Brown groovin' on this track.

It's obvious to me Miles Digs JB. When you listen to the Complete Jack Johnson Sessions box you will be amazed at the hard funk and Hendrix style hard-rock grooves being worked out.

By the time Miles found Guitarist Pete Cosey near the end of 1973, Miles had settled into voodoo funk groove based style that reminds me of this style a bit.

I have been dissecting this music for over 20 years, and I am still completely amazed how many new things I hear and how the discovery of new stuff seems to never end. Many Times I will put Big Fun on as back ground music, much of this music is good like that as well.

"Ife" From Big Fun

Call it Anything: Live from the Isle of Wight 1970

Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea playing piano in the same band? Then you throw in Dave Holland on bass, and Jack De Johnette on drums, pretty hot band huh?

For me, this music documented on vinyl "pictured above" as well as the DVD video performance available now as "Miles Electric: A Different Kind of Blue" is one of the best live documents out there of electric Miles..

The Aug. 29th 1970 show at the Isle of Wight Festival is a cookin' show, everything seems to run on all cylinders. Jarrett and Corea are both inventive, and somehow are making real music come out of these newly discovered toys.

As a long time Miles Electric music fan, I do endorse this Isle of Wight show on DVD. I like having it in audio form too, but the atmosphere is so good and the extra interviews are very nice, as well as the thick liner notes inside the DVD case.

The so called electric piano toys are actually perfect for Miles' way of doing things, an instrument still in it's refining stages then, and musicians were only starting to figure out its nuances. Miles recorded off the cuff, didn't care for second takes, and didn't like his "guys" too practice much. He wanted to retain a sense of uneasiness in the music, perhaps to avoid cliches?

The live Miles music of the early 70's always sounds like a freight train ready to derail at any moment, visceral music, real music. Music organically made for the listener who had better feel this vibe, or all hopes of understanding it are lost.

Miles own playing here is superb, I have to laugh at those who knock Miles' chops, they still say he didn't have the chops of Dizzy, or Freddie Hubbard for instance.

Miles in the past may not have had the technical ability, and certainly didn't play with as much speed or brashness as Freddie Hubbard, but Miles sure made up for that with his tone, and his ability to take his foot of the gas to make those flourishes seem more heated.

Once electricity got involved in Miles music, seems to me his trumpet chops got super charged, check "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down", and "Right Off" from Jack Johnson. Miles is playing with speed there, and he bends notes in the upper register, his sound is wholly his own.

Miles offers some of this new speed and upper register flash throughout this Isle of Wight show, Miles really kicks some ass here too, it's a shame 90% of the crowd there that day probably could have cared less, such is the situation with multi-genre festivals.

I would mention this show is interesting, not only having the ability to not only watch the show on DVD, but also having a vinyl copy of the show. You do indeed focus on the audio, and the music its self on the record seems different somehow. Without having he distraction of the visual, I can focus more on the performances themselves.

I watched the DVD again after this vinyl listen, and when you see all those people, 600,000, yeah, over half a Million! Miles seized the moment, and damn that band might be the best fusion outfit Miles ever had.

You need the DVD, it's so cheap anyway, I don't know why you wouldn't get it. The DMM Vinyl pressing was very good too. That CD also appeared in the big 70 CD set Columbia put out in 2009.

"Call it Anything"

© 2016 GodsOfRock

Any Thoughts on Miles Davis?

Christopher Nowak on December 17, 2019:

Sorry folks but I consider Miles Davis to be a crook!!

Example: SOLAR was actually written by the great guitarist CHUCK WAYNE.

It was originally called SONNY in memory of the late trumpeter SONNY BERMAN.

There is also speculation that KIND OF BLUE was written by BILL EVANS.

Related Articles