JJ 09/82: Miles Davis – We Want Miles

Forty years ago, Mark Gilbert hailed Miles Davis's rehabilitation of jazz-rock for the modern world. First published in Jazz Journal September 1982


Purists may have difficulty in accept­ing Miles’ current music on the grounds that it is tainted with non-swing rhythms and played by a largely electrified band. Too often such rhythms (funk, rock, reggae, etc) get bad press thanks to their popularity in contemporary dance music, and by the same token are automatically labelled as ‘com­mercial’ or ‘entertainment’.

Miles is not the first to appreciate that these rhythms offer a perfectly valid framework for modal improvisation – many influences are evident here – but he must be the first to choose such excellent soloists to argue the case.

Mike Stern has been called a rock guitarist, probably because he uses overdriven amplification and bends notes, but his vocabulary is far more rarified than this dismissive descrip­tion implies. He is a highly fluent exponent of what is known as ‘out­side’ playing, incorporating subtle and fleeting dissonances into cascading scale patterns.

The pre­viously unacclaimed soprano player, Bill Evans, has almost equal fluency. His approach tends to be cooler and closer to the harmony, though his solo on My Man’s Gone Now shows him in higher gear. Beneath it all, too easily forgotten in its essentially supportive role, is a magnificent rhythm section. This is not a plod­ding and prosaic rock battery, but a supple and responsive unit. Listen to the dynamism of Fast Track.

Miles could seem incongruous in such fast company, but his cus­tomary cool style contrasts well with the fieriness of the other soloists. He generates a different kind of heat, glowering and broody.

Leaving aside the critical polemics that a jazz elder like Miles is bound to inspire, and listening to the music on its own terms, one is bound to proclaim the album a success.

Jean Pierre; Back Seat Betty (18.40) – Fast Track; Jean Pierre (19.10) – My Man’s Gone Now (20.12) – Kix (18.45)
Miles Davis (t); Marcus Miller (elb); Bill Evans (ss); Mike Stern (elg); Al Foster (d); Mino Cinelu (pc). Recorded live in New York, Boston and Tokyo, 1981.
(CBS 88579)