Friday, April 03, 2009
Miles Davis - Get Up With It
Some cool pics of the 1974 double-lp Get Up With It. This is the final studio album of the Miles Davis electric "fusion" era, and as such contains the heaviest, hardest, and wildest music of his career.
This wasn't conceived as a studio project per se, not in the sense that On the Corner was. Miles was rushing in and out of recording sessions with regularity throughout the '70s, and while the bulk of the album features the "Pete Cosey lineup" (that's the easiest way for me to remember this voodoo funk-metal period), some of the tracks are recorded a bit earlier.
No doubt, at the time, this gave the impression that the album was a collection of leftovers, like the numerous Miles Davis albums of the '70s like Directions and Circle in the Round and Water Babies. But like the 1974 release of Big Fun, which was composed of tracks recorded 1970-72, Get Up With It has a cohesion to its sound. To my ears, it sounds very much like a modern album. Okay, a '90s rock album. It's not my fault this decade's music was so terrible.
'90s rock was defined by a lot of experimentation, and it was common for the greats to jump across genres every couple of songs. It's not the musical brew of the late '60s, but more of a channel-surfing thing. Maybe everyone was just taking cues from Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Who knows? My favorite '90s albums - Soundgarden's Superunknown, Stone Temple Pilot's "Purple," Hole's Live Through This, Radiohead's The Bends and OK Computer, Metallica's Load & Re-Load - have that jukebox attitude. Get Up With It carries that very same vibe, and I think that's the reason why I love it so much.
The two epics, which fill sides 1 and 3, couldn't be more different in mood and texture. And the shorter songs range from boogy blues to trip-hop dance to dissonant noise. And yet it all feels so similar. There's a similar plan of attack from Miles and his bandmates, and to my mind it comes down to two things.
One, Miles on the keyboards. While piano and keyboards were always a staple, at this point Miles takes the keys himself, but he uses the instrument almost purely for assault. It's there to bludgeon you, shock you, to hit you upside the head until you're kissing canvas. I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that Miles did little more than just punch the keyboard, or mash his forearm down for dissonant effect. Which brings us to...
Two, these songs are angry. Very angry. And very dark. That dark, violent side to Miles Davis was in full evidence on the 1970 landmark Bitches Brew, even though the spirit of the early fusion years was one of exhuberance and discovery. But genius does come with bits of madness, and it's that darker side that emerges. The move into fusion split the jazz world down the middle, and
When On the Corner dropped, the conflict just exploded, and the furious backlash over that album has become the stuff of legend. It's famously said that On the Corner baffled, frustrated, and angered the entire music world, and while I'm sure there were genuine fans who "got it," Miles disappointment was very real, and the music continued its angry, dark voodoo funk descent.
This isn't to say that Get Up With It is a dark or heavy album. There are so many moments of beauty to be discovered. But that's my own judgement, based on the music of my generation - hip-hop, punk, grunge, thrash metal. '70s Miles Davis was the heaviest cat on the planet. Today? He's just another one of us. Good Lord, the dissonant noise and chaos on some of these songs are enough to melt the walls. Certainly more than the hippie or disco kids were willing to handle.
Anyway, I'm rambling on here, as I often do when I'm still figuring things out. This is such an astonishingly deep and layered album that I find myself having to sit and reflect after playing each side (yeah, even when playing my digital needledrop copy). It's very difficult to play through start to finish, not because it's difficult listening, but because there's just so much to absorb. And I'm remembering different moments each time. That is the hallmark of a great album, a truly great album.
On the Corner is widely regarded as Miles Davis' most overlooked, least understood album, but I don't believe that holds anymore. I think Get Up With It holds that honor now. This final phase of Miles Davis' fusion era was pretty much dismissed out of hand. I don't think anyone but the diehard fans (whoever they were back then) and the truly brave were willing to give this album its proper due. And the younger generations, those of us who discovered Miles after his death, well, we're a bit backlogged at the moment. Do you know just how many albums this man released during his life? Do you have any idea how intimidating it is to wade through all of this?
Yes, Kind of Blue is the universal touchstone. In college, it was the default "jazz" album in everyone's CD collection. But just try to work your way past that without devoting several years as a music scholar. I don't think older folks appreciate this. When I told Marcee that my Miles Davis library had reached 25 albums, she was stunned. Then I told her I was only half-way finished.
So is that enough to write about for now? Good Lord, I've barely touched upon the music. Just wait until "Rated X" hits your ears. Does "techno/speed metal" even exist yet? There's probably a half-dozen new musical mutations on this album that have yet to be discovered by the rest of us. Whatever. That's enough for now. Just get your hands on the album, already. It's a monster.