The Complete On the Corner Doth Rock My Face Off

14 01 2008

It’s true. Ever since I first checked out Miles Davis’ “On the Corner” album, I have been totally wrapped up in his electric period. It’s a bit strange since I was only familiar with the second quintet, and as a jazz musician I’m apparently not even supposed to like it, but “On the Corner” just blew me away.

Playing jazz for a pretty long time, I had somehow always managed to stay away from Miles. Maybe it’s my rebellious nature about conventions, but I always figured people gave too much love to Miles, and so I just never got into it. Sure, I went through the whole “ex-Phish head discovering the transcendence of Bitches Brew” thing, but for some reason it didn’t last long. I even burned “Kind of Blue” from the college library, and still couldn’t get into it. Then, after hearing lots of great West Coast and avant-garde stuff, I had a growing frustration that Miles got all the attention, and Barney Kessel and Shelly Manne never got the same love. Being a mass communications major, I quickly deduced that the press had a lot to do with Miles’ success, and just lost interest in trying to like him for awhile. Until…

I think it was my good friend Larri playing me “Miles Smiles” that first got me to take notice. Also, my drummer friend Shareef got me into Nefertiti because he was transcribing Tony Williams’ solo for school. Something about Miles second quintet really got to me. The flexibility of the group, and Wayne Shorter’s amazing writing really hit me hard, and I immediately bought ESP and Nefertiti.

So now I was way into the second quintet, and Shorter’s solo albums of the time (especially Night Dreamer), but I had a clear understanding that the Miles electric stuff wasn’t real jazz, and that I should stay away. I didn’t go through music school, but my understanding from conversations with music school veterans was that the second quintet was the greatest, and was the last group Miles played good music with. It baffles me now that I never questioned these opinions, but these were people that I played with at the time so I knew they had to be right, and besides, I never went to music school so obviously I had to rely on these “educated” people for solid perspective on good and bad Miles.

Anyway, 3 years later and my friend Matt White got me to listen to “On the Corner.” It blew my mind, and being a fan of underground hip hop, profoundly effected me. There’s a solid amazing groove that just doesn’t quick, and the minimalism of the whole thing mixed with the constantly subtle shifts of the percussion just opened my eyes to a whole new approach. Oddly enough, Miles’ electric period really solidified an approach that I’d been threatening to put in my own music even before I heard his. More on that in time, but needless to say, when I got “The Complete On the Corner Sessions” for Christmas it also blew my face off, and keeps doing so because there is just so much music there to digest. I will be doing more in depth analysis of these recordings, but for now just know that in my mind Miles’ electric period was clearly a huge leap forward for his music, and not the step back that so many people would have you believe. But geez, where’s the melody on those things?

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One response

18 01 2008
B

I am not going to be a coward about this. There are volumes to say on this topic, however, I will take it slow due to the fact that this album is an extremely delicate thing to talk about, even today some thirty five years after it was originally created. I am noticing that any misstep in communication about “On The Corner” could lead into a never ending pit of unfortunate debate and unsatisfactory dialogue. I also come from a background of no musical training, but I do listen to the shit out of some Miles Davis. I believe that “Kind of Blue” is, without a doubt, one of the top ten greatest albums of all time. “In a Silent Way” always brings me to that lovely place where I feel happy but I want to cry. And sometimes I almost do. If I really could. I even boogie down, in the summertime, to “Tutu” (another heavily criticized MD album since Marcus Miller came up with most of the shit on it).
“On The Corner” is definitely the mid section to Miles’ whole career. Actually 1972 seems to be the exact midway point. But, who should care? Some jerks who know everything about jazz? Or some wandering minds looking for the new deal? Or, Miles, on his own journey at that particular time that we’ll know nothing about. The time period was way out of this world and the music collided and combined with it. Now, we have what we think now without the then. And, none of that really matters unless you give the shit a listen. What do you think? Is it garbage or does it move you? That was probably the debate back then.
How many musicians or bands have made a change only to be bludgeoned with verbal rocks and sharply written remarks? It happens all the time. “On The Corner” is just another case of that phenomenon. The only criticism I have of the complete sessions is that it takes a little bit of power out of the original punch. The extended versions and new unreleased tracks in glorious sound quality make the music “priceless”, literally worth the price of the box set every time I listen to even one of the six discs. Now, it seems that the original four track album has lost a little of its moje.

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