Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Review: Miles Davis - Get Up With It

‘Get Up With It’, Miles’ final two-disc set from the 70s was seen as a bit of a hotch-potch release when it first appeared, and garnered itself some middling reviews saying as much. Again, like ‘Big Fun’ and other recordings from this period in Miles’ career, it has with the passing of time seen itself keenly re-evaluated and now praised as pushing the boundaries of music forward (but, unlike ‘Big Fun’, with no new added material).

Not an easy album to write or even think about, it’s an even harder album to try and put in the confines of one genre. And not really a coherent album, it is basically a collection of works from a four year period of ever-changing personnel and experimentations, that rather than sounding like ‘Big Fun’s missing link between ‘Bitches Brew’ and ‘On The Corner’, it sounds instead like pieces either taken from each, or from other scrapped directions (some tracks featuring as interesting directions as having as many as three guitarists).

‘He Loved Him Madly’, the major showcase of the album, dominating the first disc at thirty-two minutes, is a languid and simmering crawl lead by gentle wave after wave of reverbed guitar and Dave Liebmans superior unaffected flute. When drums, bass and Airto Moreiras persussion enter at around the ten-minute mark, a gradual intensity begins to take hold as Miles’ yearning trumpet gently cuts through the sonic haze. Languorous and shimmering, the piece contains a beauty and lyricism easily as great as ‘My Funny Valentine’, and one can see the influence it would later have on other musicians and even whole genres (Brian Eno himself has stated numerous times just how important this recording was to his later ambient works).

The rest of the first disc is made up of three very couldn’t-be-different tracks. ‘Maiysha’ is, bizarrely, pretty much a standard cocktail jazz arrangement, whilst Miles interrupting by stabbing out harsh-sounding organ chords. ‘Honky Tonk’ is not much to write about and seems to be here solely to show us the stellar, who’s-who of 70s jazz and fusion, line-up on display (John McLaughlin! Herbie Hancock! Keith Jarret! Billy Cobham! Airto! Steve Grossman! Michael Henderson!). The biggest stand-out of these three though is easily the bizarre and polarizing, what can only be called an experiment, ‘Rated X’. Featuring a dense, heady mix of tabla, drums, various African percussion and thumping bass that, with its oddly very danceable beat, sounds to modern ears like an uncanny precursor to drum ’n’ bass, Miles again away from his trumpet fires out keyboard riffs that sound like unholy shrieks. Ocassionally the rhythm stops, leaving nothing but fierce organ howls. Then the beat starts up again. Some will revel in this strange early heady beats-based dance music. Others will run in fear at the unholy horror-soundtrack keyboards.

‘Calypso Frelimo’, in stark contrast to the first disc, kicks things off on disc two with a bang. Frenzied layers of percussion and freak-out guitars jostle for space with Miles’ Latin-sounding high-powered trumpet. Again running well over the twenty-minute length, it sustains itself for the whole duration, with a nice slow-down section and some excellent stop-start bass moves from funk-bass prodigy Michael Henderson.

‘Red China Blues’ continues the hard edge, complete with wails of blues harp, which on any other album would be out of place, here though it seems to fit in and make sense. ‘Mtume’ on the other hand gives a nice workout to the stellar eponymous percussionist, whilst ‘Billy Preston’ ends proceedings with Miles on piano giving him a chance to give tribute to one of his soul inspirations and is simply a riot of fun and funk.

‘Get Up With It’ is, like many other recordings from this period in Miles Davis illustrious career, seriously over-looked – either for being too ahead of its time or only now being listened to without any bias or pre-conception. It isn’t jazz. There is some funk, there is some rock, and there is some jazz, but mostly trying to put this into one genre would be useless, and false.

When it finally closes, the album feels like the end of a long and winding, unplanned one-way roadtrip. Like listening to an over-stuffed cassette or CD mix tape an over-enthusiastic fan has made for you, it’s sequencing and structure doesn’t really feel coherent, and you probably won’t remember half of what you heard. Smaller selected journeys are required for ‘Get Up With It’, so the hard funk can be appreciated separately, away from the soulful and moving, the larger group sounds away from the smaller. Not the best Miles album as a whole entity, by far, it has more than a strong number of compelling tracks (you need to hear ‘He Loved Him Madly’ at least twice in your life), and perhaps each has to be listened to individually to be fully appreciated, but it is a journey that has to be done, because the highlights are spectacular.


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