Box set: Miles Davis

On the Corner Sessions (Sony)
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The Independent Culture

Columbia's Miles Davis reissue series may be the most lavish tribute a label has ever accorded an artist. The themed compilations, each examining a single era of his career across six CDs, are beautifully presented in striking variations of the slipcase book format, which, here, involves a brushed aluminium case on which the original On the Corner sleeve caricatures are featured in coloured enamelled relief. It may be the most gorgeous CD package ever created and the music's not bad, either.

On the Corner was Miles's equivalent of Dylan going electric: a provocative, exploratory move into a more demotic, populist style that drew howls of derision from fans and critics expecting more of the same old stuff. Which, for Miles, meant not rock with which he'd already reached a rapprochement on Bitches Brew but the emergent funk music of James Brown and Sly Stone, a mode that sacrificed the complex rhythms and time-signatures of jazz for simpler, more stable beats, but which, crucially for the trumpeter, anchored his music firmly in the broader cultural consciousness of black America.

This set follows on directly from last year's Cellar Door Sessions, which marked the point in 1970 when Miles "stole" teenage funk-bass prodigy Michael Henderson from Stevie Wonder's touring band. Here, Henderson is the bedrock of a band selected to emphasise groove over melody, his stolid licks leaving plenty of space for Jack DeJohnette's insistent hi-hat pulse on the title-track, with the lock-tight, infectious groove thus created providing the spine around which cavort Miles's squawking electric trumpet and John McLaughlin's waspish guitar lines.

The band's line-up gives due warning of the trumpeter's intentions: this was world music years before the term was coined, with a phalanx of percussionists selected to impart the rhythmic flavours of Latin America, India, Africa and North America, a sitar player, and the whole subjected to the musique concrte and minimalist strategies then prevalent, with tracks edited together from multiple takes in Teo Macero's audacious montaging style. In other words, it was about as ambitious a musical stew as had been cooked at the time.

Few albums in the Davis canon have undergone as wholesale a revision of their reputation as On the Corner, now regarded as yet another pioneering phase in his restless development. Immersing oneself in its mesmeric, distorted funk, however, now holds fewer challenges than it originally posed.

Download this: 'On the Corner', 'Black Satin', 'Helen Butte/Mr Freedom X', 'What They Do', 'Red China Blues'

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