Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Avant Tuesday: Miles Davis, 'Black Satin'

Jazz purists had reluctantly followed Davis from be-bop to hard-bop on his seminal album ‘Bitches Brew’, but with the onset of the Seventies the jazz fraternity
would have to endure another painful shift in a new direction. This era saw Davis attempt to incorporate the funk grooves of Sly Stone and James Brown with jazz, the kind of thing Herbie Hancock would do so effectively the following year on ‘Head Hunters’.

Needless to say the quality of personnel on board are a testament to the respect Davis commanded; Chick Corea, Hancock and John Mclaughlin all happy to play minor supporting roles. For the underlying rhythm tracks Davis used repetitive bass riffing and robotic precision drumming mixed with a heavy dose of Indian Tabla to produce the requisite dense jungle sound he was searching for.

These tracks were then surgically grafted to several hours of jams by Davis and his producer Teo Macero. This subsequent cut ’n’ paste technique is perhaps the first instance of a remix. The similarities with early hip-hop or drum ‘n’ bass are clear but comparisons with the extraterrestrial Krautrock sounds coming out of Germany at the time are more apt. This is raucous street music, unmistakably New York in a sweltering blurry heat haze. 'Black Satin' is essentially a microcosm of what Davis was trying to achieve on the album.

The track employs an early synthesiser colouring with the de rigeur layers of Fender Rhodes and Davis’ squealing wah-wah trumpet licks. He produced two more albums before exhaustion led him into self imposed exile and his underwhelming eighties return. The album was poorly received at the time but the passage of years has revealed its embryonic genius.

Where to find: On The Corner (1972)

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