Music: Call it anything

For no real reason at all, I posted the link to this video in one of the comment boards today, and now I’ll write a bit about it.

This is part one of Miles Davis at the Isle of Wight festival in August, 1970. Apparently he played immediately after Tiny Tim. There are four videos in this Youtube set; I’ve posted the first above. The superb Miles Davis exhibit at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is screening this entire video in a loop. One of the smartest choices of the MMFA exhibit is to offer no judgment about Miles’s transition from acoustic to electric instruments and swing to rock beats: it’s just something that happened at the end of the ’60s, and you get to decide for yourself whether it was brilliant or wicked. My own theory is that it had a lot to do with insecurity brought on by his brief marriage to the much younger Betty Mabry, and I think there’s more to like than to regret about his music from this period. (From about 1985, it was harder to be genuinely impressed by the very proficient Scritti Politti cover band he had assembled.)

A few thoughts:

• Keith Jarrett was new to the band. Imagine how Chick Corea, the other keyboardist, felt. Terrified and intrigued in equal measure, I’m betting. Note how Davis stations the two young keyboardists so they face each other, putting each in the other’s face. Corea (curly hair, granny glasses) responds warily. Jarrett (afro, sunglasses) does his ecstatic abandon thing.

• That’s a cuica the percussionist, Airto Moreira, uses through Part 1, a small Brazilian hand drum he holds with one hand and reaches inside to rub with the other, producing a high-pitched, weirdly human sound. I love those things.

• There’s about 600,000 people out there, but Jack DeJohnette actually doesn’t hit his drums very loud for most of the show. The young musicians Davis hired, especially in the early phase of his “rock” period, were jazz musicians who’d have been just as happy to play acoustic instruments at jazz-club volume. Jarrett hated electronic instruments, but Davis made their use a condition of the job offer so Jarrett swallowed his pride and dove in.

• Doesn’t Miles look great? Especially after he takes the leather jacket off.

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