The Complete On the Corner Sessions, the latest (and, the label vows, the last) in Sony/Legacy’s “metal-spine” box sets of crucial Miles Davis recordings is bottom-heavy and funk-dominated, with the trumpeter darting in and out of tunes — make that grooves — bristling with rhythm and menace.
This is not the melodic Miles. It’s not even the modal Miles. It’s fiercely contemporary and routinely daunting, even now. Tunes like “Calypso Frelimo,” the title track from 1972’s On the Corner and “Billy Preston” (only three on six CDs containing more than two hours of “new” music, parsed as 12 previously unissued tracks and five previously unissued in full) are long, convoluted, organic.
They can be enervating, for sure; they are more frequently exhilarating. Culled from On the Corner, Get Up With It and Big Fun, this music remains radical. Not only does it represent Davis’ break with tradition — his famous quintet of the mid-’60s was a dramatic shift, but not a break — it also signals his transition to the pop sensibility that would propel his oeuvre until his death in 1991 and infuriate jazz purists.
Unlike some other sets in this striking Miles Davis series, the On the Corner sessions should be absorbed a bit at a time. The music is by no means bite-size, even though its pieces are detail-rich, like Dave Liebman’s purling saxophone and Michael Henderson’s bass, the barbed, soulful guitar of Cornell Dupree and the tarter, more angular one of Reggie Lucas.
When On the Corner was released in 1972, I didn’t know what to make of it. It was Afro time, bell-bottom time, when pop mutated from Stax-Volt to Philly Soul and Motown left Detroit for Los Angeles.
Miles, as usual, was on the fashion tip, outfitted with shades and foxes and Lamborghinis and attitude. It’s still a guidepost. It also shows how parallel Miles was with Weather Report, but that’s another probe.
Other hot releases to check out: Cyrus Chestnut, Cyrus Plays Elvis (Koch); Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette, My Foolish Heart (ECM); The Jason Lindner Big Band, Live at the Jazz Gallery (Anzic); Enrico Pieranunzi/Marc Johnson/Joey Baron, Live in Japan (CamJazz); Claire Ritter, Waltzing the Splendor (Zoning); Stanley Clarke, The Toys of Men (Heads Up); Bruce Hornsby/Christian McBride/Jack DeJohnette, Camp Meeting (Legacy); Oregon, 1000 Kilometers (CamJazz); and Zaid Nasser, Escape From New York (Smalls).
Joe Zawinul, 75, died in September 2007. I saw him 25 years ago in Albany, N.Y., commanding a sea of keyboards. Arrogant, brilliant, he was a force of nature. I miss him.