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Miles Davis

The Complete On the Corner Sessions

Hoping to capture the imaginations of young African-Americans who were breaking sweats to James Brown and Sly & the Family Stone, Miles Davis intended 1972's On the Corner to be his commercial breakthrough. How odd, then, that it turned out to be one of the most rhythmically innovative, atmospherically menacing and uncompromisingly psychedelic works ever to be filed in record-store jazz sections. Davis may have entertained hopes of mass popularity, but On the Corner is more likely to set people on edge, not loosen 'em up or induce bonhomie. "Black Satin" epitomizes this pressure-cooker aura as shaken bell trees, snap-to-it handclaps, humid tabla thumping, searing sitar drones, acrid organ and guitar stabs, and a rhythm that foreshadows drum-n-bass's convolutions coalesce into a disorienting, sensory-overload journey to the dark side. Over it all swoops Miles's menacingly festive trumpet motif. Dude sincerely wanted to get the youth dancing, but he ended up alienating many of 'em (and jazz purists, too). Even the most bad-ass pimp would have trepidation struttin' to On the Corner, which, in its relentless, cutthroat way, is utterly thrilling.

Columbia/Legacy's six-disc box set contains 12 previously unreleased tracks, plus five more never before issued in full, totaling more than two hours of previously unheard music. Besides encompassing the original 1972 album and numerous alternate takes, this beast also includes material recorded during the Big Fun and Get Up With It sessions (excellent, expansive fusion albums in their own right). For obsessive fans of Davis's electric period and those curious to know why it's so fervently worshiped, Complete OTC Sessions — augmented with a lavish 120-page booklet — is a compelling examination of the trumpeter/keyboardist's teeming inventiveness and producer Teo Macero's deft manipulations of his charge's world-class bands (including Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, John McLaughlin and Jack De­John­ette, among many others). The contents consist of sessions from 1972 to 1975, when Miles was on a torrid creative roll, employed several jazz-fusion titans, had Columbia's deep pockets funding him and, one speculates, had access to the country's finest drugs. All of these factors converged in a perfect mix of aesthetic serendipity, resulting in a slew of albums that continue to sound ahead of and out of their time. The nearly 400 minutes of sonic trailblazing here will easily sate hard-core Miles-philes who wish to know the mutational evolution of every improvisation the man and his elite troops executed during this most fertile, febrile period.

 
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