Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Mythical Davis

I had a strange (though welcome) experience last night while watching Miles Electric: A Different Kind of Blue. It was the odd feeling of experiencing Miles Davis as a tangible person, rather than as some archetype or grand concept. I've been a fan of Davis' music for a long time, and, not knowing any different, I embraced the idea of Miles, the legend, as near a god as jazz could produce, but someone dead and passed that couldn't pop up and remind you that, yes, I am just another man, just like the rest of them. As I watched the film last night, I realized that I had never seen Miles in action: I'd never heard him speak with his wispy, gravely voice, seen the idiosyncratic way he'd cock his head to one side and point to his ear after a solo, or the way he sometimes bent towards the ground, playing to his knees. I'd never seen Miles move. He had always been static, staring back from inside a photograph. Mostly though, he was just this sound, amorphous, restless. Primal and modal. He was as much there in the silence, too. He's absent for minutes at a time on some of his albums. Until last night, I could never see where he went during those silences. On record his absence seems profound; in reality, he paces and empties his spit valve. It almost seems like it should be disappointing. But it's not. He was just a dude. He reminds us of the amazing things that certain dudes can do. No divinity required.

As I watched, I had similar reactions to many of the musicians who were interviewed: Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea. All men whose music I've derived endless enjoyment from. But that music was my only point of reference. I'd never heard them speak, read the fine lines on their faces, listened to their perspectives on their own music. In a way, it's an awe-inspiring experience, even when delivered via a second-rate DVD. Music so often seems to be something from beyond, and at times, it's nice to be reminded of the human element. It's inspiring.

Here's Miles' performance in front of 600,000 people at the Isle of Wight Festival, in four parts. The year was 1970. It's the same performance I watched last night on Miles Electric, and if you've got 40 minutes to spare, it's a historical concert worth taking in. (2004 was the first time a recording of the full performance saw the light of day; not even audio bootlegs were in circulation.)

Personnel: Miles Davis trumpet, Gary Bartz soprano saxophone, Keith Jarrett electric organ, Chick Corea electric piano, Dave Holland bass, Jack DeJohnette drums, Airto Moreira percussion

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Photo by Simon Götz

1 comment:

Tobonics said...

I know I've probably said this a billion times, but if you haven't already read Miles' autobiography you should. Well worth reading, it captures the essence of the man - warts and all.