Miles Davis, BIG FUN, Columbia PG 32866
Louis Armstrong called bop Chinese music. Duke Ellington played with big bands until the day he died. Theolonius Monk is still playing bop, and Roy Eldridge has listened to Ornette Coleman straight and stoned, has even tried jamming with him, and still can't figure out how anyone could like his music. The trend among musicians is to stick with one style throughout their musical careers.
Of course keeping old musical traditions alive is laudable. It's wonderful that through 1974 it was possible to hear the Duke Ellington Orchestra live.
But it seems to me that the case of Miles Davis is even more wonderful than the case of Duke. Here we have this Miles character who in the forties was recording with Charlie Parker, and now he's playing rock 'n' roll. As you might expect, when one of the outstanding graduates of the demanding bop university plays rock and roll, it's a special kind of funky soul. Because not many rock 'n' rollers have the musical background and knowledge that Miles has.
As for BIG FUN: in the wee hours of a recent morning a Detroit radio announcer, I don't remember which one, mumbled something to the effect that the record is made up largely of leftover past recordings. That would explain why much of the album sounds like BITCHES BREW i.e. early electric Miles Davis.
Sides one and four sound pleasant and have their share of typically unbelievably good Miles Davis riffs, but they don't have the spark of his later electric stuff. Side two is the studio version of a song that appears on Miles Davis IN CONCERT. The live version has more drive, more fire.
So in one brief paragraph I've written off three-quarters of a Miles Davis album. That's dangerous. It reminds me of the story about Miles being told by a woman that she didn't understand his music, and his answering something like since it had taken him 25 years as a professional musician to get to where he was, he didn't expect that the average person would understand his music very well.
So at least I like side three. Half of it is regular hard rock Miles, with a nice solo by John McLaughlin during which the volume of his guitar keeps changing abruptly as though there was a loose electrical connection in his guitar. Steve Grossman plays two clean characteristic solos.
The second half of the side is a 44-some-odd blues, kicked off with a perfect solo by Miles.
As on the last two albums, fancy cover art by Corky McCoy. --Stephen Hersh