2/05/2005|||110752067021746758||||||
MILES AHEAD

In The Weekly Standard, Ed Driscoll enthuses over a DVD of Miles Davis's concert at the fabled Isle of Wight festival in 1970:

What the audience at the Isle of Wight had witnessed was a moment similar to watching Bob Dylan "go electric" for the first time at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965.

Jazz fans who don't care for "Bitches Brew" are usually dismissed at hopeless nostalgics who long for the days of "Kind of Blue". There's no doubt a grain of truth in that. (Is it really such a terrible sin? After all, almost everyone agrees that the 1959 session remains the quintessential Davis album.)

As a matter of fact, I wasn't even born when "Kind of Blue" was made. The first Miles LP I ever heard was "Big Fun", a 70s freak-out that I borrowed from my local library when I was about 16. I'd just read about Davis's fusion experiments in a stylish book on soul music edited by Simon Frith (it's still somewhere on my shelves). From what I could make out - the section on Miles was somewhat ambivalent - the trumpeter was some incredibly sophisticated cross between Isaac Hayes and Sly Stone. No wonder I was in such a rush to get to the library.

"Big Fun" had the perfect cover too - a drawing of a naked, Afro-haired woman standing in the full blast of a trumpet horn. I couldn't wait to put stylus to vinyl. And what happened next? I was bored to tears, much to my own amazement. Those long, aimless vamps carried my into a new realm of tedium. It was a bizarre experience. Was there something wrong with me? At the time, I was certain that it was my ears, and not the music, that was at fault. I didn't listen to any more Davis albums until I was at university. Then I had exactly the same miserable experience with "Bitches Brew" and "Jack Johnson" (which is no great shakes as a soundtrack either, as I eventually discovered at a National Film Theatre screening.) It was only later that I encountered "Kind of Blue". Perfection. At last.

I'm not entirely retrograde, though. "In A Silent Way" is one of my favourite records, there are some thrilling moments on "Decoy", and I'll never forget the excitement of hearing Davis with John Scofield at Hammersmith Odeon in 1983. After that, sadly, the concerts slowly descended into hipper-than-hip self-parody. As far as I recall, I walked out the last time I saw him.

I'll try to get hold of a copy of the DVD, but somehow I doubt that it will convert me. In the end, I think Stanley Crouch is right: Miles lost his way. (The lowest of the many low points in his tedious autobiography comes when he boasts about being cast as a pimp in "Miami Vice".) Even great artists are allowed to lose their way. Fans can often be reluctant to admit that simple truth.

|||Clive|||http://clivedavis.blogspot.com/2005/02/miles-ahead-in-weekly-standard-ed.html|||2/05/2005 05:59:00 pm|||||||||
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