"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Uncut JANUARY 2008 - by John Lewis
MILES DAVIS: THE COMPLETE ON THE CORNER SESSIONS
Dark prince maps the outer limits of hypnotic funk.
The Bengali percussionist Badal Roy tells the story about how he came to the Colombia Studios in Manhattan to record with Miles Davis in 1972. He'd never done a jazz session before, so he nervously asked Miles what was going on. Miles glared, raised his hand to signal the start of some manic funk groove, and turned to Badal. "Just play like a nigger," he growled.
The On The Corner sessions are filled with tales like this - baffled musicians playing instruments they'd never touched before, over tracks they couldn't hear, making music that sounded like nothing else on earth.
The jazz buffs hated it. There were few solos and little harmonic development, with more attention being paid to texture and timbre. Yet it's exactly those qualities that endeared the album to subsequent fans of rock, dance and electronica. Some tracks sound similar to Can's (contemporaneous) Ege Bamyasi, others serve as precursors to techno.
Brian Eno also credits the album for pioneering the whole studio-as-instrument shtick, with most of its tracks assembled in post-production. On Rated X, producer Teo Macero takes two separate breakneck-speed funk loops and repeatedly cuts them out of the mix until you're left only with Miles' discordant organ drones, the sonic equivalent of a cartoon character running off a cliff.
This handsomely packaged six-disc box has sessions from On The Corner together with similar 1973 and 1974 tracks later used for Big Fun and Get Up With It. They see Miles pushed in two different directions: borrowing from Sly Stone in an attempt to connect with a younger, blacker audience, but also being introduced to Stockhausen, Bach and Steve Reich by the British cellist Paul Buckmaster. The result sees futuristic Harlem street funk, African trance and Indian ragas refracted through the lens of avant-garde minimalism. Its grooves are spellbindingly freaky, ultra futuristic, yet utterly accessible.
Q&A: PAUL BUCKMASTER
UNCUT: How did you first come to work with Miles?
BUCKMASTER: I met him in London in 1969 and we kept in touch. In 1972 he called me up and asked me to work on his new album. I flew out immediately with some Stockhausen albums and spent nearly two months on his sofa. Every so often I'd be shopping for groceries with him and I'd think, bloody hell, I'm hanging with Miles Davis!
Was it chaos in the studio?
Everyone knew that working with Miles involved the unexpected. He had an instinct for getting people to play in a whole new zone. I'd written out basic scores which became the basis for three long jam sessions in June 1972, and Miles and Teo Macero used these as raw materials, editing them with overdubs, crossfades, loops and so on - techniques common in dub reggae. To me it was the sound of an astronaut dangling in zero gravity.