Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Miles Davis – Big Fun


   In sixties Miles Davis with his quintet and with Gil Evans created series of recordings which had the power of defining modern jazz. After 1969, starting with remarkable In a Silent Way, Miles Davis’ electric fusion was the style setting trends in seventies. In this period his artistry flourished with deep quality of pure musical contents. It is characterized by an abundance of excellent recordings, new electrified sound, revised framework for more compositional and improvisational freedom. This qualities can be treated as a continuation of the main trends present in Davis’ music in the sixties. Among the albums from this period, many of which are considered to be brilliant, probably the most underrated is Big Fun, a double LP album, released April 19, 1974. Problem with this album was the moment of publication, over four years after first recordings and diversity of material forming a patchwork of four different pieces recorded during four different sessions in the years 1969, 1970 and 1972. Every piece has length of full record side and takes from 21 to 28 minutes.
   It was three months after album In a Silent Way was released and more than two months after Bitches Brew sessions, when Miles Davis resumed recording sessions continuing his experiments with electric sound and fusion. He started recording along with Steve Grossman (ss), Bennie Maupin (bcl), guitarist John McLaughlin, Khalil Balakrishna playing electric sitar, Bihari Sharima playing tabla and tamboura, pianists Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, bassists Ron Carter and Harvey Brooks, drummer Billy Cobham and Airto Moreira on percussion. First session took place in New York Columbia Studio E, November 1st, 1969. Musicians recorded one piece Great Expectations, including Joe Zavinul’s Orange Lady. Almost the same band took part in recording Lonely Fire November 28th, 1969. Changes in line-up were saxophonist Wayne Shorter, double bassist Dave Holland. There was also the second drummer Jack DeJohnette. Lonely Fire was placed as recording closing the Big Fun set with sound and style most close to the opening piece.

Miles Davis – Big Fun (1974)

   Second side composition Ife was recorded during last session June 12th, 1972. The band was almost all new, besides Davis and Maupin all line-up has changed. Soprano players Carlos Garnett and Sonny Fortune (also flute), pianists Lonnie Smith and Harold Williams Jr. (also sitar), bassist Michael Henderson, drummers Al Foster and William Hurt, Mtume (James Foreman) playing African percussion and Badal Roy on table – whole band was almost the same as recorded On the Corner and musical ideas of Ife and other recordings of this period are clearly connected. This was most recent sound of Miles Davis band.
   Although many musicians played on previous albums, the sound of this recording was significantly different. And it was not only the effect of introducing Indian instruments, nor the first use of trumpet mute in electric period. Musicians still presented experimenting approach. The first recordings were done five months before Bitches Brew was in trade. Album In a Silent Way was received very well, but musicians knew nothing about what will be the public reaction for the Bitches Brew album. This situation was for sure in a way uncomfortable but the same way forcing more artistic freedom.
   Since the sixties jazz musicians were abandoning formal rules obtained earlier. Traditional dividing into theme and improvised choruses sections in bop, cool and hard-bop was more and more lousy. In free jazz era this form seemed to be totally obsolete, but Davis didn’t accept this as a new mode. Looking for own way became main narration of albums and concerts in electric era. In 1969 he turned to folk music, connecting sound of Indian and African instruments with muted trumpet (as earlier he used the Harmon mute) and the sound of electric instruments, guitar, organ, pianos and even electric sitar. Most natural way of building musical narration became freely distributed, improvised sections developing over hypnotic rhythm and bass line figures. This gave his music the epic effect of breaking rules and touching the core of human condition.

   Most complex and longest composition on this album is Go Ahead John. Recording March 3rd, 1970 group was smaller than typical Miles Davis’ personnel. This time trumpet’s companion was only Steve Grossman on soprano sax, John McLaughlin on guitar, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette. And guitar was only harmonic instrument used. The title evokes guitarist John McLaughlin whose solos plays featured role in introducing and closing parts of the piece. The dominant of the whole construction are still two episodes of Miles Davis trumpet solos. While in Great Expectations Davis played with distorted sound giving him almost rock guitar expression, this time without mute his trumpet sounds mild and silky. The sharper sound of McLaughlin’s guitar paradoxically reinforcing lyricism and abstract calm of blues played as central episode by Davis and Holland. In this part Davis’ trumpet was overdubbed with repetitions duplicating phrases and giving this music spatial and mysterious outfit. Sound space was extremely significant. Even some drums parts were divided in fast cuts into two channels like there were two complementary drummers. In coda comes back initial funky guitar with Grossman’s soprano solo. Whole work credited as Miles Davis’ composition was executed in series of studio treatments by Teo Macero – yet another example of excellent cooperation between Davis and great Columbia producer.
   Considering the diversity, richness and permanent underrating, definitively 5 stars.

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