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Miles Davis - A Tribute To Jack Johnson CD (album) cover


Miles Davis


Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.20 | 197 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars This is so much better than Bitches Brew, it's not even fair. While that album went down in history as the essential Jazz- Rock album by Davis, this one, A Tribute To Jack Johnson, is one of the many Miles Davis records that more or less fell through the cracks over the years. But let me tell you, this is one of the best Jazz and/or Jazz-Rock records I have ever heard thus far. If you like fast, rocking guitar stylings paired with soaring, crazy trumpet work, this is your ultimate treat. For everybody else who knew Davis by his more well-known releases such as Bitches Brew and Kind Of Blue, I think you'll still find this album quite enjoyable, but it might not be as special to you as it is to folks like me, who typically like a bit of Jazz in their Rock rather than the other way around.

So, what makes this album so much better than Brew? Well, for one thing, it has a sense of direction. Now, I realize the whole point in many Jazz recordings is to improvise, play between the notes, and so forth. But this album has that, too. However, unlike the aforementioned release, there is plenty of air to breathe, here. There aren't dozens upon dozens of musical layers clashing with each other all the time, and so the music itself is more concise and enjoyable. There is still no shortage of classic Miles, here, but the album is a much more tamed beast. As far as I am concerned, this is the album people should point to when speaking of Davis' incredible capabilities as a Jazz-Rock musician. Bitches Brew was one big Avant-Garde experiment, and there are indeed some magical moments on that record, too, but I don't enjoy it as much as I do many of his other releases. However, A Tribute To Jack Johnson is among my favorite Davis albums of all time, and it's really hard to say what I might like more. It's just so brilliant, so vibrant and so full of life, I truly believe everybody needs to here this album at least once.

''Right Off'' is one of the greatest Jazz-Rock tunes ever recorded, as far as I am concerned. I may not be the upmost expert in these matters, but i can guarantee you nobody does this type of stuff better than Miles. The song starts off with an incredibly groovy distorted guitar lead by John McLaughlin. It's R&B mixed with Rock, and it works so incredibly well! Billy Cobham and Michael Henderson serve up a very tasty rhythm for McLaughlin to play over, and before too long they bring it down a few notches, allowing John's guitar to stand out and entrance the listener. The drums and bass soon come back in, and then the guitar starts to truly get into Jazz territory for the first time, playing some wonderful chords and rhythms.

Have you started to wonder where Miles is, yet? Well, not to worry. He finally makes his grand entrance around two minutes and twenty seconds in to this record. Boy, does he sound hot! It's amazing to hear how clear and alive all the instruments on this recording sound, but especially the trumpet. These amazing leads by Davis always get me hopping, and especially on such a hot recording like this, everything has been cranked up a few notches. Kind Of Blue, this is not, however it doesn't need to be. This is a whole new era in Miles Davis' repertoire, and it's one of my favorites.

The marriage between McLaughlin's guitar and Davis' trumpet is so mesmerizing, here. For the next few minutes, all that matters to me is that guitar and trumpet trade-off lead section. However, I must say, between the two minute mark and the six minute mark, it's pretty much all Miles in the flourish department. Although both men compliment each other's performances extremely well. There are moments here from Miles that absolutely send shivers up and down my spine. The man was a genius, what can I say?

So at around six minutes and thirty seconds, Davis lets McLaughlin take over completely, and so we begin to hear some killer psychedelic guitar flourishes while Davis takes the role of the backup partner. But this doesn't last long, and soon they are both ferociously playing at their highest caliber once again. Well into eight minutes, now, some of the more impressive drum work from Cobham begins to seep through, and man, is it ever amazing to hear! All of these guys are so spot-on in their positions, yet nothing becomes repetitive or boring. Always progressing and changing is the music, while still holding a solid grip on the rock- solid foundations laid down by Cobham and Henderson. Quite possibly my favorite moment from the first half of this epic track takes place just around 9:40 (courtesy of Miles, once again!). Soon after, the gears change again, and this song's middle section is almost upon us.

So now we are about ten minutes and fourty-five seconds in. Here is where I saw some other reviewers start to complain about the supposed 'choppy' feel to this record. The rest of the instruments die away and a very trippy, psychedelic, effects-heavy section of the song begins. I do believe it's trumpet, still, but it's clearly distorted and reverbed to the extreme to give it a very dreamy quality (it might even be Steve Grossman's sax, which is actually really hard for me to distinguish from Miles on this record, for some reason). Meanwhile the only other thing you can hear besides this is a distant. groaning ambience that gives me an uneasy feeling. Cool! See, being a fan of Prog Rock, which is a very studio-heavy genre anyway, I personally have no problem with edits, studio effects or things such as that. However, if you're coming from a more Jazz-oriented background, it's very possible you may find moments like this one disjointed, and if you're a purist, you probably won't like the post-production effects done, here. However, looking at it from my perspective, I don't see how this song feels all that disjointed at all. I suppose these types of tracks are typically looked at as long jam sessions, and to interrupt the flow of the song to make way for a psychedelic breakdown might ruin the song for some. But for the more adventurous listeners, I think you'll really like it.

This small part of the track only lasts for about a minute thirty, anyway (if that!), and soon the rest of the band comes back in again. It's obviously more toned down, now, but just as exciting, i think, as the first half of the song. Now for the next few minutes, a tradition is apparent in which the rest of the musicians will subdue their playing, allowing for only one or two of the players to have a moment to themselves to really shine. I like it. McLaughlin's flange guitar effects are heard in the distance, and adds a really psychedelic quality to it all.

Around fifteen minutes in to this twenty-seven minute track, we finally hear Herbie Hancock very prominently. He plays a funky solo for around a minute, then stops briefly. The next time he can be heard, he is holding a chord on his organ that shoots a sense of urgency and/or dread into the song, and Cobham rushes in with his tight, amazing drum flourishes leading us into the next groovy breakdown of the song. Hancock plays a simple chord sequence and McLaughin jams along as Davis comes back in once again. This continues until around 18:34 when suddenly, the entire tempo and direction of the song changes on a dime. Out of nowhere, this song has now become John McLaughlin's , and I'm certainly not complaining. He plays some really remarkable grooves during this part of the song. Is my head bobbing? Oh, yes. The Rock influence has never been more obvious.

Over twenty minutes into this, and John McLaughlin now recapitulates the same style and rhythm he was playing back at the very start. Hancock edges in with long, gentle notes, and then begins to play off of John's riffing, adding his own spin to this groove. At this point, I'm not even missing Miles. Both of these guys are fantastic. Less than five minutes to go, now. Hancock is playing some absolutely wonderful organ leads with John keeps strumming away. Finally, Miles begins to pipe up again (or is it Grossman?), and it's probably the most Avant-Garde moment in the song. It's wonderfully exciting. One final hurrah for McLaughlin hits with less than three minutes to go. He's been warming up the whole song, and now he's finally let off the leash. This lead by him is absolutely worth the wait. Also, during this time, we finally hear a very prominent, noteworthy performance by Michael Henderson, as well. In fact, he and Hancock are the most audible players as the song finally fades out, bringing to a close one of the most exciting Jazz-Rock moments I have ever heard.

And, oh yeah . . . that's just the first song!

Again, there is plenty of classic Jazz approach and attitude in this; nothing is lacking as as the experimentation and improvisation goes. The music stays unpredictable and exciting, and yet, the drums keep a steady beat, the bass accents those with wonderful precision, and that still allows Miles and John to experiment like crazy overtop. The big problem I have with Bitches Brew is that every single instrument on those recordings rarely seem to work in unison at any time. It's as if every musician is playing to his own song, and while that makes the music complex and interesting, it doesn't make for much actual enjoyment for me. I would much rather listen to what's on Jack Johnson than what's on Brew. But again, that's a personal thing, and I realize many people think just the opposite, but please do yourself a favor and make sure you pick this album up if you haven't already, because it doesn't get nearly as much credit as I think it deserves.

There are so many riches to be found here, that honestly I don't think any of the complaints made are good ones. Yeah, sure, you can say that some obvious cut-and-paste moments here and there ruin the music, but that's rubbish. There are plenty of exciting extended moments on continuos music, here, and this whole record is absolutely worth investigating if you're a fan of Jazz-Rock at all. I consider it one of the essentials, for me. Hopefully it will mean the same to you. The lesser moments are few, and the amazing moments are frequent. You decide if that's enough reason to pick this thing up, or not. This is a true Jazz-Rock album, and as far as I am concerned, it is also one of the best.

Very, very happy listening.

JLocke | 5/5 |


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