Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Miles Davis - Heavyweight Champ

The big black box called ‘The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions’ sits on my desk. Perhaps it’s not so big compared to such extravagant productions as the Beatles one that came out this year, or the Miles ‘complete’ set which, if I remember correctly, featured 52 CDs. Christ – what’s the point? If you’re a fan you’ll have bought the best (your favourites anyhow) and if you’re not, why would you bother? A Christmas gift from father to son? “There you go, lad. That’s proper music.” Son struggles to find the correct appreciative expression, as you do when receiving a naff present...smiles, says “Thanks”, wondering if his parents will ever understand his taste...he’d rather have a token that he could spend on Amazon.
If I had a son he’d get a token...and a bash over the head with this Miles box set if he misbehaved. It may be possible to knock not only sense but also sensible taste into a child, I don’t know. Would it depend on your weapon of choice? After all, you can try forcing them to listen, but the direct impact of a hard object bearing the image of Miles might also do the trick. Miles has knocked me out many a time, as befits a man who was a budding pugilist. As far as I’m concerned he knocks out all would-be contestants in the musical ring. I mean, who can go ten rounds with him? Coltrane? Yes, up to a point, but would JC have gone on to make anything as significant as Miles in the late-60s? Ornette? He’s a tough challenger, and although he proved capable of improvising to survive changing times, he doesn’t quite carry the clout of Miles. They named a Coltrane box set ‘Heavyweight Champion’, but the champ for me is the guy whose band he was in back in the 50s. No heavyweight physically, but musically, he’s Ali.
So I listen to ‘Willie Nelson insert 2’ again...the fantastic spaced-out Echoplex sound of Sonny Sharrock’s guitar...funky backbeat by Jack DeJohnette...electric bass by Dave Holland. This black box containing sounds by the black boxer strikes me as monolithic, like the slab in ‘2001 A Space Odyssey’, towering as it does above the rest of the CDs in that part of the collection...a mystifying artefact carrying musical messages from the past...ageless music that will last me for as long as I’m around.
Talking of space odysseys and therefore science-fiction, the player shuffles to ‘Neo’ by Miles, from ‘Saturday Night At The Blackhawk’...one of my favourite things by the man. To enter the matrix of Miles is to enter another world, to become engaged in dimensions of music which somehow seem to exist in a parallel musical world...from a kind of blues to modal modernity...cosmo-electric space noise to bop of the cool post-war world...so many angles to consider and pathways to traverse...
I’m not normally given to lending music spiritual capabilities or, for that matter, extraterrestrial dimensions, but you can’t help it when thinking of, say, Sun Ra, or in this case, the elements of electric Miles. It’s as if, like Ra, he belonged to another planet. Or perhaps he received messages from Out There, directing him towards places no human musician had gone before. Or did The Greys channel their message through Teo Macero? It’s a short spelling step from Teo to Neo, after all, not that I think the film has any significance whatsoever. Yet for Miles the prefix ‘neo’ seems so pertinent...neo-bop, neo-modern...until everyone dabbling or delving deeper into electric jazz made neo-‘Bitches Brew’ music, but none could conjure up the magic of Miles around that period.
Have you listened to 'Go Ahead John' or 'Duran' lately? Players have been trying to emulate, imitate, extract from, build careers on and generally learn from this stuff ever since. All the would-be jazz-funkateers, techno-jazz fantasists...breakbeat kids...muso fusionists...none get close.  

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