Miles Davis is this anomaly in the realm of jazz. While his contemporaries continued to push boundaries like him, they weren’t quite as vilified as he was when he wanted to push the boundaries of his music. I guess it’s not like Cotrane, Andrew Hill, Sun Ra, and Ornette Coleman were hailed by the jazz elitists as geniuses and lived out their days being adored. But they were able to fly under the radar and explore freely without much ridicule. Davis had broadened jazz music’s reach into new territories, and by that I mean he got a good portion of white folks to find something to love about jazz. With Kind of Blue, ‘Round About Midnight, Miles Ahead, and Milestones he had widened his fan base tremendously. So when the late 60s rolled around and his records turned a tad darker and more experimental those fans in the suburbs and the Midwest couldn’t follow. Even hardcore jazz intellectuals wrote off Bitches Brew, On The Corner, as well as collections like Filles de Killimanjaro and Big Fun as over indulgent and blasphemous to jazz.
So of course this is the point where I began my obsession with Miles Davis.
I didn’t get into Kind of Blue, Milestones, or Miles Ahead until well after I’d lost my mind zoning out to Bitches Brew, or following a 11.2% stout with In A Silent Way. I fell, and I fell hard for the experimental ways of Miles Davis. Jack Johnson, Nefertiti, Miles In The Sky, On The Corner, Bitches Brew, and Big Fun are right up my alley. Agharta, Pangea, and Dark Magus are also these immense records that are equal parts acid freakout and gritty street scores. Whatever Miles Davis was on at this time it was doing something amazing to his mind. Opening it up and allowing it to soak in the sounds and sights of here and beyond.
Imagine my surprise when on a whim I clicked on Get Up With It. I had never listened to this record. I honestly thought it was a latter-era record that was going to sound more on the contemporary side. Within two minutes of the monstrous album opener, the thirty two minute “He Loved Him Madly”, I knew I was in for a treat. It has the feeling of being lost in space. It’s dark melancholy is both contemplative and foreboding. This is the kind of song that is more about mood and space than taking you somewhere specific. It reminds me a lot of the heavy synth escapism records I’ve fallen for lately, It’s a mood creator, for sure.
“Maiysha” is groovy and funky with Latin percussion and distorted organ. While other latter year albums by Davis were all fire and intergalactic freakouts, Get Up With It feels more grounded. It’s at times a preview of things to come with Agharta and Pangea, but at a more earthy level. “Honky Tonk” starts out with some killer funky organ and descends into some primitive and primal 12 bar blues. “Rated X” begins with some spooky organ but quickly succumbs to some seriously funky rhythms. It’s raw and tribal, giving the song title a whole new meaning. There’s moments of stress and anxiety in this song, like a horror movie called Shaka Zulu Finds His Groove. This song is impenetrable. Solid grooves, dark vibes, and the sound of tribal dread.
“Calypso Frelimo”, like “He Loved Him Madly”, takes up one whole vinyl side. Side C is dedicated to the island vibe and sexual heat of this intense track. There seems to be a hundred things going on at the same time here, with Davis standing in the middle of this musical melee barking orders through his trumpet. This is Davis’ version of mystical worship music. You bow at the feet of whichever God gets you high the quickest. It’s a landscape of flesh and blood; pain and pleasure.
If there’s a shortfall on this album it lies within “Red China Blues”. A simple blues track that sounds as if Davis and the boys left for a smoke break and some half-cocked Chicago blues outfit came in and recorded during their absence. Nothing particularly wrong here, but nothing particularly right, either. Compared to the exorcisms we’ve heard up to this point this song feels downright pedestrian.
Fear not, “Mtume” arrives to take us back to the jungle rhythms and urban decay we’ve come to understand and even desire in Davis’ late-60s and early-70s output. There are moments here that feel downright futuristic. Frequency analyzers are used to give the song this intergalactic vibe. Like an acid trip on a space station. This song is so far ahead of its time it’s almost lapping us. Holy shit.
“Billy Preston” keeps the booties shakin’ with some seriously funky tones. On some level I can’t help but wonder if Brian Eno wasn’t hit over the head by this song, as well as this album as a whole, as musically it reminds me somewhat of the work he did with Talking Heads on Remain In Light, as well as the albums he did with just David Byrne. A constant riff and groove is repeated and recycled as it begins to burn psychic holes in the listener’s mind. Just a thought.
The personnel on these songs are a who’s who of musicians from the time. Guys like John McLauglin, Keith Jarrett, Michael Henderson, Herbie Hancock, Billy Cobham, Pete Cosey, and Reggie Lucas show up, as well as Badal Roy and James Mtume on percussion. And of course the hardest working drummer in the business Bernard Purdie shows up and lays down some killer grooves on “Red China Blues”. The MVP here though goes to drummer Al Foster who lays down killer rhythms in nearly every track here.
I snagged an original pressing of this album for $17, with both the vinyl and sleeve in VG condition. After spinning it a few times I’m confident in saying it’s definitely a VG+, if not NM. Just can’t beat quality Columbia Records back in the day, man.
So I did eventually fall into the earlier, cool jazz records of Davis and have come to love them. But for me, they’ll never match Davis’ adventurous nature. They’ll never come close to the direction his muse took him from 1967 to 1975. Those years are magical, and the fact that those die-hard Downbeat Jazz heads hated a good portion of his work from this time makes me love them even more.
I’m just an asshole like that I guess.