Miles Davis, ‘The Last Supper – Live At La Villette 1991’ (Voodoo Down – VDD 2022-013)
Disk 1 – Perfect Way / New Blues (Star People) / Human Nature / All Blues / In A Silent Way / It’s About That Time / Katia (64:28)
Disk 2 – Intro by Miles Davis / Dig / Watermelon Man / Penetration / Wrinkle / Footprints / Jean Pierre (56:28)
(DVD – Human Nature / All Blues / In A Silent Way / It’s About That Time / Watermelon Man / Jean Pierre (49 mins)
Recorded mere months before the bandleaders untimely passing, this set, recorded at La Grande Halle de la Villette in Paris, France, would be one of the last that Miles Davis would front.
Having recently extended his repertoire to include bouts of acting, Miles had been increasingly proficient in his music too – Collaborating with Price on a few sessions, Zucchero Fornacari, Zane Giles, Randy Hall and others, recording scores for 4 film soundtracks while also stopping for breath to receive various awards for music and other recognitions. His health was quickly failing him, however, he was seemingly determined that his last years, were going to be a catch all for the remainder of his time.
These later years also found Miles dabbling with more contemporary-for-the-time styles. His fusions were squaring up hip-hop, pop, synths and samples. The movement of such throwing various different ideas Miles’ way – As a turn, though he was suffering with his own mental health and other aggressions, his sound was much brighter, poppier even, though his playing was just as manic as it had ever been. Seemingly reflective, he played some of his late 60’s material, works that he hadn’t played for around 30 years – he was also joined on stage by friends and musicians from along his career. Foretelling? Maybe so, maybe, however, it was all just coincidence.
The show here is covered over two disks. I’d suggest this is a perfect FM recording as opposed to a soundboard (The feeling of the frequencies is a give away) but is in incredible quality with a wide stereo balance and just about enough audience interaction to be ‘live’ sounding. The show, as suggested above, carries a certain amount of swagger, but is far away less brutish than the oft’ bootlegged mid 60’s to Mid 70’s shows. Miles, who had suggested that some of the latest pop music was every bit as valid as, say, a Gershwin or Porter composition had been laying down a lot of these songs in the studio (his label refused to release them) and was confident enough that they were good enough to put in to his set.
These tracks were obviously not as originally intended and, for instance, “Human Nature” is played at breakneck speed before evolving in to a quasi-Egyptian / funk fusion – An intriguing twist on a recent pop song.
Chick Corea, Bill Evans and Dave Holland are the first guest stars to join Miles on stage for a militant spiritual titled ‘All Blues’. An elastic rumble with some incredibly chunky bass lines, they make way however for a simpler band take on ‘In A Silent Way’, an achingly still start for this mid-career classic but it’s ‘It’s About That Time’ that gets the audience rapt as Shorter and Evans return to the stage and the band throb through a twitchy, paranoid take on the 1969 classic. It doesn’t scream it’s arrival but it certainly lets you know it has arrived.
The first disk ends with the punkish ‘Katia’, cheers are raised for the arrival of guitarists John McLaughlin and John Schofield and bassist, Darryl Jones, while Ricky Wellman returns after a rest to add his rapid-fire virtuosity to the lurching, queasiness of the rhythm.
The second disk starts with a change of personnel and a dizzying take on ‘Dig’. Taking the story right back to the start, the track would be one of the first that Miles recorded, though it remained unreleased for around 5 years, heralding what must have a paucity of recorded material that his label were gently pushing out to the market. Having been given a facelift by Chick Corea on electric piano, it retains most of it’s sensibilities while adding to it’s time.
Herbie Hancock and Joe McCreary join the team for ‘Watermelon Man’. It must be Herbie’s appearance that instigated this track being played, Miles observing it’s popularity from Herbie’s initial rendition – It fits in well in to the set while it still seems very generous of Miles to afford it time.
‘Wrinkle’ adds a depth more wildness to the set, an ornastic, powerful vibration that shuttles through the air – The band play like they’re toe to toe, urging each other in to various directions – Deron Johnson’s playing seeming to edge on to David Bowie’s “Fame” from time to time. There’s the small matter of the radio reception beginning to fall out of tune through the middle of the track – It’s not a huge distraction but notable for it’s crackle.
Evans, Shorter, Corea, McLaughlin, Schofield, Holland and others finally join Miles for a rendition of ‘John Pierre’ at the end of the set (What else, I guess? At least the track gives enough in the way of space for each band member to contribute even if those contributions are tightly packed together.) I was expecting a longer version of the track to lead out the concert, time constraints being what they are, maybe the band weren’t justified in playing it out for a final 20+ minutes, that’s not to say the hearts not there however and it’s a powerful groove to lead out on.
A bonus DVD-R was included with initial copies of the set, this includes a truncated TV broadcast of the show – It’s channel ident watermarked out – but it’s of an awesome clarity by which it looks like it come straight from the broadcast mastertapes. When it comes to music, I’m not generally a visuals person save for a few specific events – This DVD made me appreciate the whole event a lot more. Maybe it shows up a little too much as it’s spearheaded by a very sweaty, uneasy on his feet, Miles – it’s obvious to say, he wasn’t in a good way by this time – that never seems to get in his way as his mind is very in to the music. Conversely, it has it’s moments of comedy as, during Human Nature, Foley stands nose to nose with Miles, shadowing him as Miles plays – you could mistake it for the most awkward hostage situation in music without the sound.
Come ‘Watermelon Man’, while Miles rests, Herbie is having so much fun, laughing and joking around, he’s also in full control of the strange “keytar” instrument he has around his neck.
The video makes you also appreciate how quickly these guys had to keep a pace – they seem to be so separate yet so cohesive at the same point, like planets around the sun, all taking pivot at different times, watching Miles intently but most specially locked in to whatever groove they’re thrown.
An excellent package from the So What! / Voodoo Down label again. Much more than expertly executed, the attention to detail is once again so well done. Miles was still at his pomp at 65, his vision still clear even though his life wasn’t as blessed.
I’d certainly comment this show for more than just Miles’ name above the door – It’s an excellent jazz show no matter who you’re a fan of.