Miles Davis 5 CD box set (Warners) 4/5

The year 1985 heralded a new era in the momentous life of one Miles Dewey Davis. It was a change of label that resulted in a new lease of musical life. A first instalment came in the shape of ‘Tutu’ with a superb black and white photo of Miles on the cover and a top notch band that included the return of bassist Marcus Miller, now a genuine collaborator as arranger, alongside the considerable talents of keyboardist George Duke and saxophonist Kenny Garrett. Production duties were taken care of by Tommy Li Puma who did such a marvellous job previously with George Benson among many others. Funk-tinged rhythms were right in tune with the musical trends of the time and this was no better illustrated than on the title track, with bubbling basslines from Miller and that unique muted Harmon from Miles himself. Nonetheless sophistication was still possible within these generic confines and an atmospheric ballad in ‘Portia’ was all the evidence one needed. Arguably one of the strongest pieces were horns, rhythm guitar and keyboards all combined to glorious effect was ‘Tomaas’. Only the bright and brassy gloss of ‘Perfect way’ now sounds a trifle dated. Those in search of more of the same should investigate the deluxe edition of ‘Tutu’ containing a live performance from Juan-Les-Pins.

If anything, the next album ‘Amandla’ was even stonger and is often cited, and with some justification, as the most compelling piece of work Miles recorded post-1975. It is certainly one of the highest jazz content-laden albums and old collaborators returned to the fold such as drummer Al Foster, George Duke and hammond organist Joey DeFrancesco. Miller and Garrett were once again on board and far more confident in their own abilities and this makes for a far more cohesive set than anything previously. It is difficult to pick just a few highlights from such a strong set, but the gorgeously slow ‘Hannibal’ is an outstanding cut as is the heartfelt trtibute to the recently deceased genius of the bass, Jaco Pastorius on ‘Mr. Pastorius’. There are even some African-flavoured grooves on ‘Catembe’ which once again demonstrated how hip Miles was to the emerging world music scene and its impact on popular music, notably Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’.

Thereafter Miles set about work on a film soundtrack, ‘Music from Siesta’, that in some respects harked back to the seminal ‘Life to the Scaffold’ album from 1957, though in style it was more of a modern update on the equally epic ‘Sketches of Spain’. The music was set on the Iberian peninsular and is akin to a series of sketches. or music frescoes if you will, that are a far more improvisatory in feel than either of the aforementioned studio recordings. Collaborators here included former band member John Scofield, here performing on acoustic guitar and Earl Klugh on guitar with a flamenco flavour. Highlights included ‘Lost in Madrid Pt. 1’ and the third movement of the film music that comprises several pieces ‘Theme for Augustin’/’Wind’/’Seduction’/’Kiss’ with Miles instantly recognisable on muted Harmon. An Australian film, ‘Dingo’ was the opportunity for Miles to renew his acquaintance with legendary French pianist and arranger Michel Legrand and, while not as constistently strong as ‘Siesta’, there is enough jazz content to interest long-term fans. The final recording Miles made was a radical departure from any of the above and totally in keeping with the musician’s desire to always be in search of new sounds to explore. The result was a collaboration with rapper Easy Moe Dee who als oserved as producer on the album ‘Doo bop’. While not a major innovation, Miles was obviously listening to other fusions of jazz and what would later be termed trip-hop (Branford Marsalis and A Tribe Called Quest being noteworthy exponents). The stand out composition is ‘Doo-bop song’ that is instantly catchy. If the jazz content was a little on the light side, the album still had its memorable moments and Miles bowed out on a high, hinting at new musical directions he wished to investigate. A much publicised collaboration with Prince, then at the zenith of his powers, sadly never materialised in spite of a brief private performance together. Remaining open to new musical grooves is the sign of a truly great musician and Miles Davis was certainly no less than that. As ever with the box set formula, unbeatable value for money and slimline folders ensure that it is easy to store.

Tim Stenhouse