Miles Davis - That’s What Happened 1982-1985: The Bootleg Series Vol. 7 Music Album Reviews

Miles Davis - That’s What Happened 1982-1985: The Bootleg Series Vol. 7 Music Album Reviews
A new three-disc set surveys the trumpeter’s most critically reviled era. The unreleased studio material is a mixed bag, but a 1983 live recording is revelatory.

Death, taxes, and “’80s Miles sucks”—as it was, and ever shall be.

For an artist whose discography has inspired so much critical debate, consensus on Miles Davis’ final era is remarkably unified—even the liner notes for That’s What Happened 1982-1985, Legacy’s latest entry in the excellent Bootleg Series, mention the “elephant in the room.” For years, many fans and critics cringed at the thought of Miles trying to update his sound using the slickest, gaudiest aspects of a decade that saw mainstream jazz marginalized even more than it had been the first time Miles tried to fuse a new generation’s music into his own (during the hallowed Bitches Brew era). Was everyone wrong? Was there something of value there? Let’s start from the beginning of the end.

In the summer of 1975, after 30-plus years of performing, Miles retired from music. Ailing health and general burnout meant that he didn’t pick up his horn again until sometime in 1980. In the interim, by his own admission, he kept himself busy with: women, cocaine, cognac, sometimes going out to see shows, women, beer, sleeping pills, the occasional speedball, Percodan, Seconal, a little jail time for failing to pay child support, and a few more women. But even jazz legends come down to earth sometimes. When he decided he’d had enough of the high/low-life (and after some cajoling by Columbia exec George Butler), he pulled together a band, booked some studio time, and proceeded to make up for lost time.

The initial results of the “comeback” yielded mixed results. His first album out of the gate was 1981’s The Man With the Horn, made with two different bands—one featuring keyboardist Robert “Bobby” Irving III and Miles’ nephew Vince Wilburn on drums, and another with guitarist Mike Stern, bassist Marcus Miller, saxophonist Bill “not that Bill” Evans, and drummer Al Foster (the only holdover from Miles’ ’70s groups). As such, the record is caught between Miles’ desire to update his funk-fusion sound of the preceding decade and trying something totally new—in that case, adding snappy funk-pop to his arsenal, even including a track with soul vocals.

Fans were generally happy he was back, but there were chinks in the armor. For anyone who’d followed Miles’ path to that point, two things were obvious: He had some catching up to do in regards to incorporating the sound of the ’80s into his music, and his chops weren’t quite back yet. By his own admission, he hadn’t totally kicked drugs or booze, so it would take the better part of a year playing shows and eventually cleaning up his act before he started sounding like himself again. And, perhaps more importantly, he found Prince.

Miles’ love of contemporary R&B and funk is well documented, as evidenced by his integration of the sounds of James Brown and Sly Stone into his music in the ’70s, but it wasn’t until he discovered the music of Minneapolis’ finest in 1982 that his ’80s comeback truly came alive. The music on the three-disc That’s What Happened 1982-1985 collection captures a period when Miles had found both his chops and his muse, and dove headfirst into the sound of a new era. Gone were the multi-guitar, wah-wah and conga freakouts of the previous decade’s bands, to make room for shorter songs, tighter beats, slappier bass, and even a reclaimed love of the blues. As ever, Miles aimed straight for (what he perceived as) the ears of Black youth, and this time he had the right sound.

Most of the set’s first disc comprises recordings made during sessions for 1983’s Star People, my pick for Miles’ best comeback-era record. However, all the studio tracks presented here are previously unreleased, so fans have plenty of incentive to investigate. “Santana” is a lengthy, mid-tempo funk tune whose snaky, childlike melody is classic Miles (and would later show up in “Hopscotch” on the second and third discs). It begins with the splash of Miles’ bright, discordant synth chord, and though the first half gallops along without much direction, the second (beginning with Miles’ solo) ups the energy, ending with an inspired Stern solo and some great ensemble figures based on the initial melody. At one point the guitar and sax drop out, leaving Miles alone to take short jabs at the melody over a bass and drums drone—it’s both ominous and head-bobbing, and doesn’t really sound like anything else I’ve heard from him. Teo Macero produced these sessions (the last time he ever would for Miles), and it’s easy to imagine him concocting an edit which might have improved Star People.

The two-part “Minor Ninths” features only Miles on electric piano and trombonist J.J. Johnson, an old friend, playing bluesy solo figures. It’s moody and interesting, if something of a non-sequitur. The three-part “Celestial Blues” tracks continue this vibe but lighten the mood by integrating the full band, playing variations on chilled-out, after-hours funk under muted Miles blowing. The two-part “Remake of OBX Ballad” pieces are less interesting, as Miles only plays synth under very smooth, if admittedly tasteful sax soloing from Evans. The first disc ends with two takes on “Freaky Deaky,” done during sessions for 1984’s Decoy, and the only tracks representing that album in the set. They’re fine (if actually less interesting than the bizarre, synth-laden version that eventually appeared on Decoy), but I might have wished for more from those sessions.

Moving chronologically, disc three contains a July 1983 live show that occurred during a break in the Decoy sessions and is the highlight of the collection. By that time, Miles had added guitarist John Scofield, percussionist Mino Cinelu, and bassist Darryl Jones (future Sting, Madonna, and Rolling Stones collaborator) to the mix, and anyone underwhelmed by the trumpeter’s studio offerings of the decade should find a lot to love. There’s nothing slick or malformed here: Straight bangers “Speak (That’s What Happened),” “What It Is,” and “Hopscotch” are right out of his mid-’70s playbook, with frantic tempos, percussion, and, best of all, Miles kicking the shit out of his solos. He’d developed a technique of playing trumpet with one hand, using the other to accentuate his jabbing figures on synth, approximating both Prince’s synths circa Dirty Mind and the brass sections Gil Evans used to arrange for him. That’s fitting, because the melody on “Speak” was itself arranged by Evans, based on an improvised Scofield figure from an earlier session. The set ebbs and flows organically like all the best Miles shows, and as it’s currently his only officially released ’83 performance, fans need to hear it.

Disc two contains tracks recorded during the sessions for 1985’s You’re Under Arrest. Miles planned to do an entire album of pop covers, but ultimately settled on Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” and Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature.” Just as on the Under Arrest versions, the alternate mixes and full studio session versions on this set are solid, if not particularly revealing. The only real draw is hearing Miles blow over the songs, but I wouldn’t say his versions add much to their legacies. (Drummer Foster actually walked out of the “Human Nature” sessions because he was tired of playing the same old pop-powered backbeat, so Miles brought back his nephew Wilburn.) The previously unreleased cover of Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It” fares a little better, if only because its slinky, noir-ish vibe already suited Miles to a tee. Elsewhere, the remake of “Theme From Jack Johnson (Right Off)/Intro” is fun (and actually a variation on “Speak”), but the two takes of “Hopscotch” don’t come close to matching the energy of the live version, and even old cohort John McLaughlin can’t quite save the ’80s-chase-scene feel of “Katia.”

Funnily enough, the peaks and valleys of That’s What Happened 1982-1985 perfectly capture the overall trajectory of Miles’ late discography. The live shows never stopped being awesome, while your mileage will likely vary with the studio stuff. By the same token, anyone writing off his whole decade as a wash is missing out. Whatever you think of Miles’ aesthetic choices, they were always choices made by a vibrant, ever-curious artist.

Share on Google Plus

About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Miles Davis - That’s What Happened 1982-1985: The Bootleg Series Vol. 7 Music Album Reviews Miles Davis - That’s What Happened 1982-1985: The Bootleg Series Vol. 7 Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on September 27, 2022 Rating: 5


Post a Comment