Monday, August 13, 2007

listening notes: miles davis, on the corner

I know, I know, I'm letting my thought processes be driven by evil empires and their release schedules, again. Still, it'd been a while since I'd listened to On The Corner, so the imminent coming of yet another Miles Davis box-set (already getting mid-listen raves) will have to do as a reminder to put that record on. Also, the great Cellar Door box generated some good discussion, maybe that can happen again.

I love that three of the four tracks are basically variations/remixes of each other, with the blaxploitation 16th-note hi-hat pattern as the common thread. There's enough variety to realise that it's not exactly the same thing the whole way through, but not a whole lot more variety than that. Who needs it? At the same time, there's so much going on, so you have funk, trance and madness all at once.

I love that a single hi-hat splash can drown out the soloist. It's all about the drums and the collective tumult, ebb and flow. Some might take the fact that you barely notice that Miles actually plays on the record as a bad thing. I don't, though some of the best moments come when things quieten down and he is given space.

I love that the first track is called "On The Corner/New York Girl/Thinkin' Of One Thing And Doin' Another/Vote For Miles" even though the sections the title would seem to indicate don't exist.

I would love to say that this album has proven its critics wrong, but I still have not read Stanley Crouch's "On The Corner: The Sell-Out of Miles Davis."

I love "Black Satin." Whistling? An off-kilter beat! An actual melody? Handclaps! Unbridled absurdity?

Sleigh bells!

I love that this music is irreproducible. A few seconds of looped sitar 20 minutes into "Helen Butte/Mr. Freedom X" creates and dispense with the template for a huge amount of future music.

Martha Bayles's "Miles Davis: An Innovator With Dueling Ambitions" brings a good deal of nuance to her appreciation of Davis's career, as she frames his work within a "lifelong struggle to achieve three goals: high musical art, commercial success and a deep connection with his fellow African-Americans." There is one mis-step, however: for her, Tutu lacks "excitement... because one of the players, the producer assembling the recording, is not a player." Of course, that album was produced by Marcus Miller. The same site has a couple more articles of interest, on Miles as pimp, and an overview by Ben Ratliff.