the music of Miles Davis 1980 - 1991
a book by George Cole
published by Equinox Publishing in the UK
and University of Michigan Press in the USA
Read reviews and praise for The Last Miles
Order your copy online
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Album Review: The Very Best Of Miles Davis: 1985 - 1991
The Very Best of Miles Davis: The Warner Bros. Sessions 1985-1991
In some quarters, it's quite fashionable to dismiss Miles's comeback years (1981-1991). Miles had gone soft; sold out; lost interest in music; was more interested in the trappings of stardom; surrounded himself with second-rate musicians; couldn't play; didn't have anything new to say. Some have even gone as far as to suggest that if Miles had never blown another note after 1975, it would have made no difference to his musical legacy. I beg to differ. I find it hard to imagine a world without albums such as Star People, Aura, You're Under Arrest, Tutu, Siesta and (shock! horror!) Doo-Bop. Some of Miles's fans tolerate the early Columbia recordings but have harsh things to say about the Warner Bros. years, which ran from 1985 to his death in 1991. This compilation is a very welcome antidote to such attitudes.
My Miles Davis record collection is heaving with compilations from Columbia Records but, apart from the Warner Bros. boxed set The Complete Miles Davis at Montreux 1973-1991, there were no compilations albums that focused on Miles's Warner years. Until now. This is an excellent compilation in so many ways. First, it's very well packaged with an informative booklet that gives track and personnel information (although sadly, no recording date details), as well as liner notes from trumpeter Wallace Roney, who played with Miles at the 1991 concert in Montreux. It's also very-well priced and packed with music, none of which has been edited from the album versions. Last, but not least, it's really nice to see that the album is dedicated to the late Don Alias, the much-missed percussionist who played on Bitches Brew, was in Miles's band in the early 1970s and also appears on Amandla.
The Very Best Of Miles Davis includes music from Miles's seven Warner Bros. albums - Tutu, Siesta, Amandla, Dingo, Miles and Quincy Live At Montreux, Doo-Bop and the concert album Live Around The World - the last three were released posthumously. The music is more or less arranged in chronological order. Few could argue with the inclusion of the album's opener, "Tutu," the first of a series of fruitful musical collaborations with Marcus Miller. This moody number with its New Orleans-inspired beat, electronic soundscape, Miller's dancing bass work and the hypnotic melodies leaping out of Miles's Harmon-muted trumpet, sounds as fresh and exciting today as it did when I first heard it more than twenty years ago (where does time go?!). Hard to believe that Miles was 59 when this record was made while co-producer/composer/arranger Miller was only 26. A word here too for the other co-producer Tommy LiPuma, who had the inspired idea of using drum machines and other electronica for Miles's first Warner Bros. album.
The second track from Tutu is "Splatch," which, to be honest, is not one of my favourite tracks (Miller says it's the one track he'd liked to have done differently on the album). A funk-rock workout dominated by a heavy backbeat supplied by a drum machine, plus various sound effects, "Splatch" certainly sounds exciting, but it lacks the subtlety and sophistication of the rest of the music on Tutu - I would have preferred "Full Nelson" to have been included. "Catémbe" is the first of four numbers that originally appeared on Amandla and one of the best tracks on the album (in my opinion, the compilation features the four best tunes). It's got a great driving rhythm (Miller plays drums and bass on it and it also features Mino Cinelu and Don Alias on percussion) and Miles's playing matches the excitement.
Miles always liked to surprise his audiences and he certainly did that with "Mr. Pastorius," which sees him playing jazz-swing on this moving tune dedicated to the late bassist Jaco Pastorius. Miles's open horn sings while Miller supports on bass and bass clarinet. Hard to believe that Al Foster's sensitive drumming was recorded after Miles and Miller had recorded their parts. "Amandla" (named after the cry used by African National Congress supporters during the Apartheid era - it means "power") is a superb ballad with inspired performances from everyone including, Kenny Garrett on alto saxophone and Joe Sample on piano. The more I listen to this track, the more I appreciate the (sadly uncredited) contribution of guitarist Steve Khan who adds lots of interesting colours, chords and riffs to the overall sound.
There will doubtless be some fans who choke on the fact that the hip-hop inspired album Doo-Bop is represented here with three tracks, but they remind you just how under-rated this album is and how Miles was still seeking to connect with the music of the day. "Mystery" is one of the best tracks Miles recorded during his Warner Bros. era, with its acid jazz feel and melodic playing from Miles. "Chocolate Chip" is a heavyweight number with a (sampled) James Brown-type, funky guitar riff and Miles's trumpet darting aound the mix. I suspect some Miles fans will be apoplectic by the inclusion of the title track, which features raps from Easy Mo Bee's vocal group Rappin' Is Fundamental. But if you dislike the rapping (personally I don't) just try to listen to the music, which is based on Kool and Gang's beautiful jazzy ballad "Summer Madness." "Trumpet Cleaning" a track from the Dingo soundtrack, sees Miles returning to his playing style of the late 1950s.
Miles's second soundtrack offering is a medley from the vastly underrated Siesta, which features some of his best playing of the decade. The medley opens with the title track, a Spanish-tinged number featuring a marching drum pattern by Omar Hakim and some fine acoustic guitar playing from John Scofield. But the highlight is Miles's open horn, which soars and sweeps on this track. Listen to how Miles pushes himself to soar close to the upper register at times. "Kitt's Kiss" is a short segment featuring Miller on bass clarinet and "Lost In Madrid Part II" is a dreamy, atmospheric number with some fine melodic bass playing from Miller.
Miles's surprise collaboration with Quincy Jones, which saw him playing the old Gil Evans arrangements at the 25th Montreux Jazz Festival on July 8th 1991 (barely two months before his death) is documented with two short pieces, "The Pan Piper" and Gershwin's "Summertime," both of which are very moving. The final three tracks are from Live Around The World and start with the moody "In A Silent Way," with Miles blowing over a backdrop of sweeping, swirling synthesisers. Sadly, space limitations meant that the seamless transition into the driving number "Intruder" (which is what happened during Miles's concerts) couldn't be included. But what do you get is a gorgeous near ten-minute version of Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time," and the moving "Hannibal," (the fourth tune originally from Amandla), a recording taken from Miles's last concert, barely a month before he died.
Miles Davis was often well ahead of his fans and critics, witness the critical reassessment of his 1970s music, which was initially dismissed by many. The signs are that music from his final decade is beginning to get the attention and respect it deserves. If you're one of those people who have dismissed Miles's Warner Bros. years or are new to his music, then you should listen to this compilation, which gives you a realy good feel for what Miles did musically in the last six years of his life. With open ears and an open heart, you should find lots to touch you. As George Duke says: "You have to be able to find one track and say 'Man, that's some classic Miles,' and if you don't, you're dismissing a whole period of his life and not giving him the credit he's due."
praise for The Last Miles
‘The best Miles Davis book ever.’ Randy Hall, singer/guitarist/producer, who worked with Miles in the 1980s
‘An important book.’ Brian Priestley, co-author of ‘The Rough Guide to Jazz’, jazz pianist, critic and reviewer
‘Very moving, emotional material.’ Gordon Meltzer, Miles’s last road manager and executive producer of the ‘Doo-Bop’ album
‘George Cole’s writing, his choice of references, his descriptions of many incidents – it is all so clear and respectful, and shows a deep understanding.’ Palle Mikkelborg, composer, arranger and producer of the ‘Aura’ album
"Wow! What a great book. Finally, something that really gets it right. Thank you for capturing what was going on, the mood, everything." Adam Holzman, Miles’s keyboardist and musical director 1985-1989
"Wonderful job, congratulations! An immense amount of work must have gone into it, I can't even imagine. But it was very cool to see that era of Miles treated with the same respect as every other... someone gets it!" Benny Rietveld, Miles's bassist 1988-1990
"The book is wonderful. Congratulations for your very important contribution to the historical documentation of many [musicians] who would otherwise have been overlooked!!!!" Robert Irving III Miles’s musical director 1983-1988
"I have to say that you did a marvellous job! It brought back strong memories of that time period and answered a number of questions I had, especially the chapter on the Rubberband sessions. A brilliant job!" Patrick Murray, who worked on the road with Miles from 1986-1990 and was Miles’s concert sound mixer from 1988-1990
"It is truly an excellent body of work that literally takes a reader from hearing rumours to realising truths about the Chicago group and our collective take on the Miles Davis comeback." Glenn Burris, co-writer of "Shout"
"The most immediate impact that this book had on me was to make me listen again to Miles’ later recordings with a completely regenerated ear and this really is the reason why this book works so well and is an essential read for any true Miles Davis appreciator… you will be hard pressed to find a more inspirational read, written by a man who quite simply loves Miles Davis’ music." Mike Chadwick, Ejazz.fm
"There are large chunks of fresh material here…Fill[s] in quite a few gaps and dismisses blanket condemnations of [Miles’s] pop phase." Stephen Graham, Jazzwise
"Cole does for Miles’ late work what Ian Macdonald’s ‘Revolution In The Head’ does for The Beatles, examining each album in meticulous detail." John Lewis, Time Out
"Cole’s analysis has a meticulous, forensic character… [and] is able to bring a wealth of new information to light….This book should get people talking. It should be the first rather than the last word on an intriguing chapter of the life an extraordinarily complex artist. And Davis’s vanity would surely have loved that." Kevin Le Gendre, Independent on Sunday
"The book is beautiful. I think you did a great job on covering Miles’s life and legacy." Sid Reynolds, hip-hop producer
"GREATFUCKINJOBWITDABOOK" Foley, Miles’s lead bassist 1987-1991
"Cole’s certainly produced a fascinating book." Chris Ingham, Mojo
"As with any good musical biography, Cole had made me think again about those albums such as Siesta, You’re Under Arrest, The Man with the Horn, that are now stashed in my attic." John Bungey, The Times
"I thought it was wonderful. It’s a very detailed look at a certain part of the career and life of Miles Davis. A lot of people didn’t pay attention to this and I’m glad that George Cole took the time to focus on these final years of Miles’s life." Easy Mo Bee, co-producer of Doo-Bop
"Many people have come to me in the past about how the "last miles" bands had been overlooked and ignored by journalists. This book is a comprehensive answer to these omissions. From my discussions with musicians from the latter years with Miles it seems pretty clear they feel some vindication as a result of this book. I thank you sincerely for telling our story. Most everything I have read is as close to my memory of how things happened as any book could hope to be. I think you've done a wonderful job." Darryl Jones, bassist with Miles 1983-85, 1986-1988
"The title is likely to send most jazzbos running, with received wisdom having handed down the rule that in the 80's Miles was only good for playing live; and half of that was just the pleasure of seeing him in person. For a single man to take on the 400-page+ task of changing popular opinion is a very tall order indeed. For him to make you want to actively revisit the decade in question is a near-miracle. Detailing album histories and giving final verdicts, Cole has made every effort to lay the evidence out bare. The analysis could have been a chore were it not for the presence of first-hand interviews with all the major players, making this not just a scholarly study, but a tribute to the man himself, And for a book such as this, you learn more about Davis that could have been expected." Jason Draper, Record Collector
"There simply hasn’t been another book published on Miles Davis, in any period that has managed to obtain the wealth of interview material and cover his recorded work and various live tours in such a complete and comprehensive fashion... Engagingly written from start to finish, filled with more facts than you’ll be able to remember first time through, The Last Miles is an essential portrait of Miles’ last decade and a strong argument that his music was both valid and perfectly in keeping with a musical philosophy that would ultimately stretch over six decades." John Kelman, All About Jazz.com
"We veterans of Miles’ last bands are lucky to have such a thorough and insightful look into Miles last period...I really enjoyed the book!" John Scofield, Miles's guitarist 1982-1985
"Cole has spoken to practically everyone who worked with Miles in his final decade. He has traced the evolution of each of those final albums, cut by cut, splice by splice….[Miles] comes out of Cole’s account larger, warmer and if anything even more important than ever." Brian Morton (co-writer of The Penguin Guide to Jazz), The Wire
"Through lively analyses of all Miles’ recorded work from this period and much that went unreleased, including the ‘lost’ album Rubberband, [Cole] does enough to send readers back to the original albums." Simon Evans, Choice
"... Cole is a persuasive writer: he prompted me to go and dig out albums that I'd dismissed as inconsequential and listen again with fresh ears. ... A rewarding read" Charles Waring, Blues & Soul
"Cole takes us on an exhaustive journey deep into the heart of Miles’ late recordings…The Last Miles needs to be covered by working musicians, producers and Miles’ fans alike." Livingstone Marquis, Straight, No Chaser
" George Cole has written a book that should be required reading for anyone with a serious interest in Davis’ life and work irrespective of which period of his music you prefer. It offers a valuable insight into this most complex of personalities, and reveals a side to Miles that many may not have known existed…for this reader it has prompted a re-examination of this decade which has revealed a fascinating area of music that I had previously overlooked." Nick Lea, Jazzviews.co.uk
"In the flurry of books since [Miles Davis's] death, none has dealt in depth with the music of this period. Music writer George Cole fills this gap. . . It is so detailed and intimate that the reader feels he is virtually living with Davis as he seeks to reinvent himself… a rich and rewarding read." Irwin Block, The Montreal Gazette
"This is a must for every Miles fan." Neal Gardner, Blogcritics.org
“A fantastic book, an amazing insight into Miles. Guy Barker, jazz trumpeter
“For Miles fans, this book is a must.” Jez Nelson, presenter BBC Radio Jazz on 3
“I really do recommend The Last Miles…it is a fine work.” John Cavanagh, presenter Radio Scotland’s Bebop to Hip-Hop
"A great book that plays a great tribute to the last years of Miles’ life.” Erik Telford, presenter Miles Radio.com
"The fact of having personally interviewed all those characters...without much recall to interviews already noted and the usual anecdotes, renders "The Last Miles" as excellent...a book that certainly is seen as a work of reference."Maurizio Comandini, All About Jazz.com Italy
"[Cole] has written a comprehensive account of the comeback and the albums it produced...He takes the reader through each of the albums, cut by cut, examining the musical choices, the musicians and their successes...Cole's book is a valuable resource on the last 11 years of a true music legend's life."Chris Smith, Winnipeg Free Press
"I've been thoroughly enjoying your book. I'm sure it'll go a long way towards rectifying some of the negative historical appraisals of Miles' later works that have become prevalent." Kei Akagi, keyboardist in Miles's band 1989-1990.
"Cole gives an exhaustive account of every track recorded [and, it seems, every live show] in that decade and of every one of the dozens of musicians who played on them but what's most interesting is the portrait of Miles Davis that emerges from it all. Sometimes an asshole and a bully, yes, but also a very funny guy who was a good friend to many and a mentor to even more, a man with drug problems who was more often in great pain from other maladies. Through it all, Davis was obsessed with moving his music forward with anyone who could help him do it - from Prince to Public Enemy, from Scritti Politti to a violinist he saw on Johnny Carson and hired on the spot." Rock & Rap Confidential
"I thought your book was awesome and straight to the point. To tell stories the way it really happened is nothing but the truth! Congratulations and thanks!"Ricky Wellman, Miles's drummer 1987-1991
"George Cole has made a major contribution to jazz scholarship...written over a three-year period, the degree of detail is quite astonishing and the research so extensive that it becomes possible to contradict claims made by Miles himself in his autobiography. Every track on every 1981-1991 album is discussed in length …a very valuable book.” Chris Yates, The Jazz Rag
“This book is a model of how these types of books should be…If late period Miles is in the readers’ interest, the reader should rush out and purchase this volume. It is invaluable.” Robert Iannapollo, ARSC Journal
The Last Miles was voted one of the top ten music books of 2005 by Record Collector magazine.
The Last Miles was joint winner of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections’ Best Jazz History Book 2006 award.
Contact George Cole at
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