Sketches of Electric Miles

Miles in the Sky entered the brave new world of fusion. When Miles Davis went electric, he once again turned the jazz world up side down. He picked up new followers, but also alienated his old fans, especially those who loved the Acoustic Miles. I am a fan of Acoustic Miles, but a freak of Electric Miles. I simply can’t get enough of In a Silent Way‘s funk groove that seemed to go nowhere. Why would I want it to? Without chords, the mysterious melody revealed itself in a silent yet stimulating way.

I am not an alcoholic, but Bitches Brew is my go-to album after a few shots of Hennessy. I just kick back and let the surrealist, spacious rhythm takes me to another planet that is similar to James Cameron’s Avatar. When Miles solo, his soulful, spiritual sound brings me back to earth. The brilliant contrast makes Bitches Brew so far out, yet at the same time so close to your heart. What makes me come to Bitches Brew again and again is Miles’s ingenious use of space. The notes he left off were as essential as the notes he played. It is also true in A Tribute To Jack Johnson, in which Miles blew like a boxing champ (who only throws punches that would land on the right spots) over the hard, funk grooves.

In addition to studio, Miles also recorded live. Black Beauty, which taped at the Fillmore West, epitomized the aesthetics of electric Miles. Along with the live set at Isle of Wight, Black Beauty covered pieces from Bitches Brew such as the title track, “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down,” “Sanctuary” and “Spanish key,” but with much more intensity and ferocity that were attractive to rock fans.

Back in the studio, Miles recorded the challenging, fearless and most misunderstood masterpiece: On the Corner. At this point, Miles already hated the word jazz and referred to work as “social” music. On the Corner captured the street social sound through chopped-up rhythm, screeching saxophone and his own harsh trumpet. It is not an easy-to-digest work of art. As Philip Freeman puts it:

On the Corner is Miles Davis’s most difficult album. It’s like a tangle of thorns, coated in chrome and with 10,000 volts running through it. No matter how you approach it, you’re going to get a shock.

While Dark Magus funked-up groove runs like double doses of adrenaline rush, the funereal tempo on Get Up With It shows how madly Miles loved Duke and according to Greg Tate, “Beyond mourning Duke, the piece seems to suffer more from wanting to join him in the afterlife.”

By the time Miles recorded the phenomenal Agharta and Pangaea, his health problem caught up to him. As a result, he left it to the band and what we experienced from these two live set is the world’s wickest acid-funk ensemble at work. Again Greg Tate said it best:

The band’s cohesion amidst sonic chaos knows no parallel in fusion, funk, rock, or either the black or white avant garde. And while others may have achieved similar ends since, these furthermuckers (sic) were making it up night after night on the road, making new music every time they hit like they’d been possessed by whatever god or demon demands that black musicians push themselves all the way out there and then some.

After the music stopped, Miles succumbed. For five years, he didn’t pick up his horn and he substituted music with drug and women. He confessed:

Mostly during those four or five years that I was out of music, I just took a lot of cocaine (about $500 a day at one point) and fucked all the women I could get into my house…. Sex and drugs took the place that music had occupied in my life until then and I did both of them around the clock.

Miles strongest comeback was the electroacoustical, orchestral Aura. The classic materials were so miles ahead of their time that Columbia didn’t know how to market the album. Aura was not released until four years after it was recorded. By that time, Miles had left Columbia and moved on to Warner Bros. Tutu, debuted at the new label also marked the rebirth of the muted, mysterious and melancholy Miles.

Tutu was produced by bassist Marcus Miller. The tracks were pre-recorded. Miles just had to do his part. Unlike the Miles-Evans collaboration, in which Evans wrapped his orchestration around Miles’s trumpet, the Miles-Miller collaboration required Miles to work his way around the programmed production. The result was that Miles proved that he was the virtuoso of flow. He knew when to fall behind the beat and when to stayed on top. He knew when to cut through the melody and when to stay out of the way. Just the way he flows makes this album a must listen. And that concluded my Sketches of Miles.