JAZZ

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The Independent Culture
Most of the tunes didn't have titles; most of the tunes didn't have tunes. Some of the musicians met the bandleader only hours before the concerts (which didn't really matter because he seldom spoke to them anyway, at least about what they were to play). They would take the stage of the concert hall and the leader would play a brief line off-mike to indicate the identity of the tune (though there usually wasn't one), and off they would go, for 45 minutes or an hour without a break. Almost everyone except the percussionists had a wah-wah pedal, and they used it unsparingly. The leader played an amplified trumpet and sometimes an electric keyboard, both wah-wah'd to the max. There was never any written music. Indeed, there often weren't many notes. Throughout, everything but everything was subordinate to the groove. And though these albums were recorded at a variety of concerts between 1970-1974, in the uncertain, critically hammered years following Bitches Brew and In a Silent Way, they still sound, however uneven, mostly great.

Driving around with the CDs in your car auto-changer, as I have done for the past week, presents something of a traffic hazard. When do you get to change gear? Certainly, the band rarely does, remaining quite happy to fizz along in a funky groove for whole hours at a time. The separate identity of each two-disc set soon dissolves into a continuous road-movie of chugga- chugga rhythms and circular funk motifs, ridden over by the insistent, wheedling trumpet of Miles himself. Though these recordings - mostly long- deleted and unobtainable, or released only in Japan - have for years had the reputation of a Miles gone way beyond the pale for most of his Gil Evans-era fans, their re-release in remastered and extravagantly annotated new editions represents a wonderful rediscovery.

The period that the recordings cover was one where Miles could perform alongside rock bands such as The Band at auditoriums such as Fillmores East and West, to crowds made up of old fans and hippie kids. His dominant influence was probably the street-corner funk of Sly Stone, though Hendrix and Stockhausen get more than a look in, too, as well as the continual re-inventions of his style enforced by a changing cast of fellow players.

Though sidemen include important collaborators such as Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette, John McClaughlin, Dave Holland and Keith Jarrett, in many ways the most thrilling records are Dark Magus, and In Concert, where the sidemen are, apart from drummer Al Foster, relatively unsung as jazz players, and where the groove is truly the thang. Proper jazz fans will hate these records. While all of the albums are worth having, In Concert can be recommended unhesitatingly as a real solid-gold purchase - if, of course, you and your neighbours have the tolerance for this sort of thing. Getting the rest depends on how many grooves you can take, and, if you've got an in-car CD player, how far you're happy to drive in one gear.

Phil Johnson

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