Saturday, October 5, 2019

Miles’ Move from Columbia to Warner Released

from the Web page for the recording being discussed

Those who know their jazz history know that 1985 is the year in which Miles Davis left Columbia Records after having worked with that label for 30 years. He moved over to Warner Bros. in the hope that both production and promotion would lead to “a hit on the radio,” as one of his producers, Randy Hall, put it. It was not as if Columbia was trying to keep him from exploring new paths that would follow popular trends. Both Bitches Brew and On the Corner were Columbia productions; but none of the tracks on either of those albums rose to the level of “hit” status. Then, in 1984 Davis brought his take on Cyndi Lauper to the Montreux Jazz Festival with a performance of “Time After Time.” However, Davis’ version lasted only a little less than a quarter of an hour, hardly the sort of duration one expects from a “hit tune.”

Did the move to Warner elevate Davis to “hit” status? Probably not, but it did provide the opportunity to work with a different support team. Hall and Zane Giles produced a series of sessions for a new album to be called Rubberband. Four of the tracks that emerged from those sessions were vocals with durations on the five-minute scale. One of the vocalists was Hall himself. The others were Ledisi, Medina Johnson, and Lalah Hathaway. The other seven tracks were instrumentals, including Mike Stern as lead guitar on the title track and Michael Paulo on a variety of winds.

Sadly, the results of those sessions never saw release until after Davis’ death. An EP of five different takes on the title track was not released until 2018, well over half a decade after Davis had died; and the full eleven-track album was only released at the beginning of last month. Was it worth the wait?

As they say, “Reasonable individuals may differ.” Personally, I began to lose interest in Davis after the passing of his second quintet; and my attention shifted over to what members of that quintet, like Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock, were doing with the experiences they had garnered. On the other hand the historian in me sees Rubberband as a milestone (pun intended, if not more than one of them) of sorts; and, to be bluntly honest, I have never given thought to the two Warner albums that were released during Davis’ lifetime, Tutu and Amandla, or to the “final session” album Doo-Bop, which was released shortly after Davis’ death.

The bottom line is that Davis was not so much a single character as a sequence of individuals, each with distinctive thoughts about what was entailed in the practices of performance, composition, and improvisation. I see no reason to deny that I do not enjoy all of those personae in equal measure. However, for the sake of perspective, I try to cultivate some “core awareness” of each individual persona. I guess that is my way of saying that I am glad to have added Rubberband to my collection, but I doubt that I shall listen to it very often! (Mind you, I only marginally tolerate many, if not most, of the tracks recorded at Montreux!)

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