Miles Davis, ‘Road To The Resurrection’ (Voodoo Down Records VDD 2021 – 005)
Disk 1 – Miss Last Summer (Rehearsal and Takes 1 – 10) / Back Seat Betty (Alternate Versions 1 & 2) (68:25) Disk 2 – Session for Shout (51:14)
By 1975, Miles Davis was in a bad way. Years of chasing a lifestyle that a financial advancement from a record company could only provide, Miles had been living it large. On the one hand, surrounded by the type of people who were more than able to provide, Miles found himself sinking in to pit of narcotics use, twinned with injuries sustained in a previous car accident in 1972 and the lust for the salubrious life, it was the push required to keep Miles sane and also out of the way of his debtors. On the other hand, it might just be that Miles decided that enough was enough and created his messianic character to keep his dark legacy alive while he decided to hide.
Like John Lennon, who had turned to house husbandry for a quiet life, Davis hadn’t completely given up on creativity and the album that appeared soon after Miles had returned to public life, ‘The Man With The Horn’, was rehearsed and recorded in patches throughout the later part of this retirement at Columbia Studios, NY.
The first portion of disk one features a 1978 occasion in the studio about which the excellent internet resource, plosin.com explain, “(Miles) Davis was coaxed into the studio by Larry and Julie Coryell, to whom he had been introduced by his friend Eleana Steinberg. Steinberg’s attentions were apparently helping to get Davis off cocaine and alcohol, and he began composing again.
These items, on which Davis plays only organ, are just riffs, with the standard flashy excesses of late-1970s fusion. Apparently Davis and/or Steinberg suggested as the title for this tune “Amanaura,” but it was copyrighted as “Miss Last Summer.” (See the interviews with keyboard player George Pavlis and Eleana Steinberg on George Cole’s The Last Miles website.) Davis was very happy with this music, and he wanted Coryell, whom he called ‘Notes Anonymous’ on account of his tendency to play too many notes, to join a band. Coryell wisely declined. Davis was in no condition to play in a band, much less lead one. It would be more than two years before he returned to regular touring.”
The session is very band heavy while Miles throws in the occasional stab at the keys. Though it fits in well with the track, the often prolonged, electric notes of George Pavlova are a relief against the near relentless squelchy bass lines and shuffling drums while Larry gamely throws around some spidery, looping shapes. There are shades of difference between the takes here from all players, the track becoming more and more freaky as the studio time rolls on, the amount of repetition balances itself out against the volume of improvisation. Various new ideas inch their way towards the beginning of the track.
These aren’t long takes however, nearly each one lasts under the 4 minute mark so never quite reaching over-saturation or out staying their welcome, the last take however finishes up at nearly 8 minutes and is a masterly version ending with an almost silent air bass improv. I assume the only reason that the track never made the tracklisting for any of the early 80’s albums is that Miles, while present, was never quite ‘there’.
Two alternate versions of ‘Back Seat Betty’ follow. This track you’ll know already from ‘81’s “The Man With The Horn”. Almost perfectly AM station jazz with a style that typifies a very seedy, NY vibe. The two takes here are longer versions of the track – Which was edited down from track 12 for the album. They both feature extended intros and codas than what was finally released – The first performance lasts 15:10 with a brief amount of unintelligible studio chatter around 10 seconds later. The second variation runs for over 18 minutes before fading out – there are small differences between the two but they aren’t immediate.
Disk two features the session for ‘Shout’, another track from “The Man ..” but unlike the previous two tracks, one with much more melodic, poppy appeal – Jaunty, bright, funky and game, the track is rather obviously aimed at a commercial, clubby sensibility rather than sounding too high minded, too dark. Just like the two previous takes however, the sessions here are not specifically neaten and buff takes – Much more goes on behind the doors than the odd drum fill or guitar lick – Miles was back to the horn, the instrument that he insisted that he didn’t touch during his sabbatical away from recording. The session starts with an early version of the track already in full flow – the horns are already slightly tempered in the mix, the guitar much higher.
There are, again, small differences in the musician ship through these eleven takes – obviously all taken live, the band have a strong idea of how the track is going to go, there are stylistic flairs here and there that change every so often but no huge changes in difference in what’s recorded.
There’s an air that EQing the bass on your system will fix as it’s a little heavy on the treble and the first 30 seconds of track one are marred by a decreasing slide of electronic static – Not hugely unhelpful but not too disconcerting.
The double disk set is once again serviced proudly with a beautiful cover – a picture of Miles beaming next to his crew in c. 1981 displayed on what could be assumed to be stylised as a boxing match poster, fly-pasted on the wall, the rear cover a press shot for what seemed to be coverage or a press conference. Inside are some live shots of Miles in street casual clothes and a full write up of the contents of the disks.
As mentioned, the album was mostly a far cry from the dark impulses of mid-70’s Miles and edged much closer towards a cool, commercial sensibility. While the bulk of the first disk relies deeply on history and Miles’ band, the remaining part is classically deep David and the second disk is much more pure pop styled – Those of us with a penchant for Grace Jones, Afrika Bambatta, Liquid Liquid and their ilk will lap this up – Fans of Miles’ 80’s resurrection will also be very, very pleased.
A very nice listen for all – Though it all depends on your preference for eras and change – I’ll be giving this more spins f’sure but some of you might find some this errs far too far on the side of repetition.