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Miles Davis: The Definitive Miles Davis at Montreux DVD Collection 1973-1991

By Published: November 8, 2011
Miles DavisMiles Davis

Miles! The Definitive Miles Davis at Montreux DVD Collection 1973-1991

Eagle Eye Media

2011

With the release of Live at Montreux: Highlights 1973-1991 (Eagle Eye Media, 2011) a couple of months back, notice was served of a much more ambitious collection, bringing together all of Miles Davis' concerts at the esteemed Swiss festival, from the summer of 1973 through to less than 90 days before the trumpet legend's untimely passing on September 28, 1991, only a few months past his 65th birthday. For those who shelled out big bucks for the 20-CD box set, The Complete Miles Davis at Montreux 1973-1991 (Sony, 2002), there's nothing new to be heard on the 10-DVD Miles! The Definitive Miles Davis at Montreux DVD Collection 1973-1991 in terms of concert footage—if anything, there's a little less, but with good reason.

It appears that only the 28-minute "Ife" was captured in both audio and video format from Davis' July 8, 1973 performance, and so Montreux mastermind Claude Nobs fleshes out that potentially brief DVD with nearly two hours of interview footage with everyone from guitarist Carlos Santana
Carlos Santana
Carlos Santana
b.1947
guitar
and pianist Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
b.1940
piano
to singer Helen Merrill
Helen Merrill
Helen Merrill
b.1929
vocalist
, pianist Monty Alexander
Monty Alexander
Monty Alexander
b.1944
piano
...and, of course, Nobs himself, whose own stories about Davis are understandably legion. The audio box also included a performance from nearby Nice as a bonus disc that presented Davis' last touring band in its final public appearance, since the trumpeter's final Montreux show, 11 days earlier, was a once-in-a-lifetime look back (from an artist who'd steadfastly remained all about looking forward) at the music he'd made with composer/arranger Gil Evans
Gil Evans
Gil Evans
1912 - 1988
composer/conductor
in the 1950s, performed here with the supersized combination of the Gil Evans Orchestra and George Gruntz
George Gruntz
George Gruntz
1932 - 2013
piano
Concert Jazz Band. The omission of the Nice performance on the DVD box is, of course, understandable; Nobs has and had complete control over what was recorded at his own festival (and the attendant rights to use it), but likely had no such arrangement with Nice, if that festival even recorded it in video at all.

With the ongoing series of DVD issues from nearly 50 years of Montreux, it's been clear for some time that Nobs—in addition to being a visionary with his idea for a festival at the small, scenic town on Lake Geneva—knew exactly what he was doing, recording almost every show. This vital documentation has not only set Nobs up with a pretty sweet retirement income, it's become an essential record of jazz history over the past half century, with everyone from saxophonist Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
b.1933
saxophone
(both with and beyond Weather Report
Weather Report
Weather Report

band/orchestra
), guitarist John McLaughlin
John McLaughlin
John McLaughlin
b.1942
guitar
's Mahavishnu Orchestra
Mahavishnu Orchestra
Mahavishnu Orchestra
b.1971
band/orchestra
(and with a similarly large audio box of McLaughlin's Montreux appearances already out, does that mean a DVD box is far behind?), and the enduring duo of pianist Chick Corea
Chick Corea
Chick Corea
b.1941
piano
and vibraphonist Gary Burton
Gary Burton
Gary Burton
b.1943
vibraphone
as just a very small handful of artists included in a library that's increasing at a rate unaffordable to the average bear, but which is certainly a compelling reason to look for a part-time second job.


1973, from left: Dave Liebman, James Mtume, Miles Davis


That said, Miles! The Definitive Miles Davis at Montreux DVD Collection 1973-1991 works out to about $14/DVD, providing 20 hours of vintage late-period Davis with bands that included important then-up-and-comers like guitarist John Scofield
John Scofield
John Scofield
b.1951
guitar
and saxophonists Kenny Garrett
Kenny Garrett
Kenny Garrett
b.1960
sax, alto
and Bob Berg
Bob Berg
Bob Berg
1951 - 2002
saxophone
. The chance to catch not just one, but two shows per year in the 1984-85 time that Scofield was in the band, makes the collection all the more important. This is jazz, of course, and most folks know that performances vary from night to night, but the chance to experience the same band performing the identical repertoire twice during the same day is a particularly good opportunity to watch and hear this key jazz ethos in action.

Detractors of Davis' final decade usually point to a number of specific issues. First, of course, this is an unapologetically electric band, with everyone amped up to rock-level volumes. Second, as the two performances each in 1984 and 1985 demonstrate—the afternoon and evening set lists for 1984 absolutely identical, and the 1985 shows only slightly different from one another—Davis was working with fixed set lists, something he'd eschewed in past decades. Third, while there was plenty of solo space, and room for the group to move within the arrangements, these were by far the most fully orchestrated small group performances of Davis' career. So those looking for the kind of unfettered freedom of Davis' heralded quintet of the mid-1960s with Hancock, Shorter, bassist Ron Carter
Ron Carter
Ron Carter
b.1937
bass
and drummer Tony Williams
Tony Williams
Tony Williams
1945 - 1997
drums
, will be disappointed, as will those looking for the similarly open-ended but densified jungle rhythms of his last work in the mid-1970s, since the 28 minutes from the 1973 show, great as it is, could be considered a teaser, especially for those who have heard the complete 95-minute concert in the audio box.


Miles Davis, 1985


But the truth is that, while we only get to see 28 minutes of Davis in 1973—with a psychedelic-hazed group that also included the do-rag-headed saxophonist Dave Liebman
Dave Liebman
Dave Liebman
b.1946
saxophone
, guitarists Reggie Lucas and Pete Cosey
Pete Cosey
Pete Cosey
1943 - 2012
guitar
, bassist Michael Henderson
Michael Henderson
Michael Henderson

bass, electric
, drummer Al Foster
Al Foster
Al Foster
b.1944
drums
and percussionist James Mtume—it's an all-too-rare window into a time when accusations that Davis had sold out were curious, at best. Given the rambling, dense, dissonance-heavy music of "Ife," where Davis plays more with the new organ he'd recently received than his horn (and Nobs' interview talks about this at length), it once again raises the question that those who've taken the time to actually listen to albums like On the Corner (Columbia, 1972)—an album almost universally reviled by the jazz cognoscenti at the time, despite some of those same folks, nearly 40 years later, now deeming it an innovative masterpiece—are wondering: who, exactly, was Davis selling out to?

The interview footage varies, with some of the best material coming from Hancock—who, of course, has plenty of stories to tell—and Nobs, whose story of finding a sports cars for Davis in return for selling chickens belonging to the wife of the car's owner, is just one of many endearing tales. Santana's stories, while certainly heartfelt, aren't particularly deep or profound; more fawning than factual. The quickie interviews with the others on the first DVD add little, though Monty Alexander's tale of meeting Davis for the first timer is sweet. That the DVD doesn't include English subtitles when violinist Jean-Luc Ponty
Jean-Luc Ponty
Jean-Luc Ponty
b.1942
violin
and pianist Michel Petrucciani
Michel Petrucciani
Michel Petrucciani
b.1962
piano
revert to French is an oversight that would be more significant, if they had participated in longer interviews, but with just a couple minutes each, it's simply not that important.

It's also not important because, while the interviews are worth watching once, it's the 18 hours of concert footage that makes the collection essential viewing for Davis fans—even those already familiar with these performances through the audio box. 1980s fashion aside—and few but Davis could pull much of this off, though Berg manages the embodiment of Brooklyn nonchalance in the five shows in which he appears (1984-86), while percussionist Marilyn Mazur
Marilyn Mazur
Marilyn Mazur
b.1955
percussion
's enthusiastically physical percussion solo on "Heavy Metal Prelude," from the 1988 show, is an early indicator of a performance style that's continued to this day, as recently as an appearance at the Punkt 2011—it's one experience to listen to these shows, another to watch them. And it's more than because, for musicians, it's a chance to watch these players do what they do—though it's sure a boon for guitarists to not just get nearly six hours of prime Scofield, but to see a baby-faced Robben Ford
Robben Ford
Robben Ford
b.1951
guitar
tear it up at the end of "Jean-Pierre," the only song to show up in every show between 1984 and 1988—it's just plain more exciting. Davis' shows may have been more structured, but the trumpeter—whose health varied considerably across his final decade, his 1990/91 shows remarkable feats for a man whose health was on the decline—surely knew a thing or three about giving his live shows an arc that flowed from peak to peak and rarely—if ever—lagged.

And if Davis' predilection for pop songs of the day was questionable to some, it's hard to deny the sheer power that saxophonists Kenny Garrett (1988/90) and Rick Margitza
Rick Margitza
Rick Margitza
b.1961
sax, tenor
—who replaced Garrett during the 1989 tour but never recorded with Davis, save one track on Amandla (Warner Bros., 1989)—bring to their respective shows, in particular Garrett who, by that time, had already honed his ability to hang onto a single, wailing note, creating climax after climax and turning what was initially, for the trumpeter, a pop confection into an improvisational tour de force. And if Davis' mid-1980s albums with Scofield—Decoy (Columbia, 1983) and You're Under Arrest (Columbia, 1985)—were considered a tad lightweight (though Scofield's compositional input made both albums relevant), the sum total of the eight 1980s performances with the trumpeter's touring bands make clear that live, he was anything but.


1990, from left: Miles Davis, Foley


Throughout the 1980s, Davis' astute choice of saxophonists remained intact, though his replacement of Scofield and Ford with "lead bassist" Foley was less than ideal, and contributed to accusations that, as the decade progressed, Davis was leaning more to the rock side of the jazz-rock equation. Sure, Foley had a look that was far more in keeping with his leader's bold, colorful fashion sense—both Scofield and Ford, dressed a little more conservatively, look a little out of place in that respect—but comparing his relatively rudimentary blues-based language to Scofield and Ford's ability to marry the viscera of rock and blues with a more sophisticated vernacular (Foley could simply never have played, let alone considered, Scofield's staggering intro to "What It Is"), and his solos begin to appear increasingly monolithic.

But it's a small quibble in a box set that provides plenty of thrills-per-second, and visual affirmation of Davis' career-long encouragement of the talent he recruited for his many touring groups. Guest appearances are few, though the rapport between Davis and keyboardist George Duke
George Duke
George Duke
1946 - 2013
piano
—on the 1986 performance of the title track to the as-then unreleased Tutu (Warner Bros, 1986)—is a treat; and if alto saxophonist David Sanborn
David Sanborn
David Sanborn
b.1945
saxophone
is a little more reserved physically, his playing on "Burn," from the same year, represents one of the box's most incendiary moments. Only Chaka Khan fairs poorly, her singing on "Human Nature" one of the few actually objectionable moments of the entire box. In the context of her own recordings, she's a soulful powerhouse, but her shrill and less-than-pitch-perfect delivery here is an embarrassment that would have been best omitted.

But, again, a small quibble. In a recent a recent All About Jazz interview, Scofield described the trumpeter as actually bigger than a rock star: "rock stars kowtowed to Miles. A rock star's just a rock star; this was Miles Davis, man, the giant of modern music who was playing the rock star role. When Miles played, people like Jack Nicholson and Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger would kowtow to him. He was the number-one guy, period, culturally, in music." Davis may well have achieved the iconic status beyond the jazz world—to which he'd aspired since he first began turning on and turning up in the late 1960s—by delivering some of the most accessible music of his career, but on the evidence of Miles! The Definitive Miles Davis at Montreux DVD Collection 1973-1991, he'd not sacrificed integrity one whit.

Instead, spread across 18 hours of performance footage and two hours of interviews, Miles! The Definitive Miles Davis at Montreux DVD Collection 1973-1991 is a feast for the ears and eyes, revealing plenty that The Complete Miles Davis at Montreux 1973-1991 simply cannot—mirroring the physical design of the audio box, its 10 DVDs housed in two book-like cases and a 48-page hardcover booklet which, in this case, includes an introduction by Jazzwise's Jon Newey, and year-by-year liner notes from George Cole, author of the definitive The Last Miles: The Music of Miles Davis, 1980-1991 (University of Michigan Press, 2005). It's also the most complete and definitive affirmation of an artist whose context may have changed, but who remained not just an important lightning rod in jazz, but in all music, period, right through to the final months of his sadly cut-short life.

Tracks and Personnel

DVD1: July 8, 1973

Tracks: Ife. Bonus Features: Interviews with Claude Nobs, Carlos Santana and Herbie Hancock; About Miles Davis, with Monty Alexander, Helen Merrill, Betty Carter, Charlie Haden, Gil Goldstein, Stanley Clarke, Jean-Luc Ponty, Al Di Meola, Michel Petrucciani. Concert Runtime: 28 minutes; Bonus Features Runtime: 114 minutes. PCM Stereo, Dolby Surround 5.1, and DTS Digital Surround.

Personnel: Miles Davis: trumpet, organ; Dave Liebman: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute; Reggie Lucas: guitar; Pete Cosey: guitar, percussion; Michael Henderson: bass; Al Foster: drums; James Mtume: congas, percussion.

DVD2: July 8, 1984 (Afternoon)

Tracks: Speak/That's What Happened; Star People; What It Is; It Gets Better; Something's On Your Mind; Time After Time; Hopscotch/Stars on Cicely; Bass Solo; Jean-Pierre; Lake Geneva; Something's On Your Mind (Reprise). Runtime: 98 minutes. PCM Stereo, Dolby Surround 5.1, and DTS Digital Surround.

Personnel: Miles Davis: trumpet; Bob Berg: saxophone, keyboards; Robert Irving III: keyboards; John Scofield: guitar; Darryl Jones: bass; Al Foster: drums; Steve Thornton: percussion.

DVD3: July 8, 1984 (Evening)

Tracks: Speak/That's What Happened; Star People; What It Is; It Gets Better; Something's On Your Mind; Time After Time; Hopscotch/Stars on Cicely; Bass Solo; Jean-Pierre; Lake Geneva; Something's On Your Mind (Reprise). Runtime: 109 minutes. PCM Stereo, Dolby Surround 5.1, and DTS Digital Surround.

Personnel: Miles Davis: trumpet; Bob Berg: saxophone, keyboards; Robert Irving III: keyboards; John Scofield: guitar; Darryl Jones: bass; Al Foster: drums; Steve Thornton: percussion.

DVD4: July 4, 1985 (Afternoon)

Tracks: Theme From Jack Johnson/One Phone Call/Street Scenes/That's What Happened; Star People; Maze; Human Nature; MD1/Something's On Your Mind/MD2; Time After Time; Code MD; Pacific Express; Hopscotch; You're Under Arrest; Jean-Pierre/You're Under Arrest/Then There Were None; Decoy. Runtime: 120 minutes. PCM Stereo, Dolby Surround 5.1, and DTS Digital Surround.

Personnel: Miles Davis: trumpet; Bob Berg: saxophone, keyboards; Robert Irving III: keyboards; John Scofield: guitar; Darryl Jones: bass; Vince Wilburn Jr.: drums; Steve Thornton: percussion.

DVD5: July 4, 1985 (Evening)

Tracks: Theme From Jack Johnson/One Phone Call/Street Scenes/That's What Happened; Star People; Maze; MD1/Something's On Your Mind/MD2; Time After Time; Code MD; Pacific Express; Hopscotch; You're Under Arrest; Jean-Pierre/You're Under Arrest/Then There Were None; Decoy. Runtime: 121 minutes. PCM Stereo, Dolby Surround 5.1, and DTS Digital Surround.

Personnel: Miles Davis: trumpet; Bob Berg: saxophone, keyboards; Robert Irving III: keyboards; John Scofield: guitar; Darryl Jones: bass; Vince Wilburn Jr.: drums; Steve Thornton: percussion.

DVD6: July 17, 1986

Tracks: Theme From Jack Johnson/One Phone Call/Street Scenes/That's What Happened; New Blues; Maze; Human Nature; Wrinkle; Tutu; Splatch; Time After Time; Al Jarreau; Carnival Time; Burn; Portia; Jean-Pierre. Runtime: 106 minutes. PCM Stereo, Dolby Surround 5.1, and DTS Digital Surround.

Personnel: Miles Davis: trumpet, keyboards; Bob Berg: saxophone; Adam Holzman: keyboards; Robert Irving III: keyboards; Robben Ford: guitar; Felton Crews: bass; Vince Wilburn Jr.: drums; Steve Thornton: percussion; George Duke: synthesizer (6, 7); David Sanborn: saxophone (11-13).

DVD7: July 7, 1988

Tracks: In a Silent Way; Intruder; New Blues; Perfect Way; The Senate.Me & U; Human Nature; Wrinkle; Tutu; Time After Time; Movie Star; Splatch; Heavy Metal Prelude; Heavy Metal; Carnival Time; Jean-Pierre; Tomaas. Runtime: 130 minutes. PCM Stereo, Dolby Surround 5.1, and DTS Digital Surround.

Personnel: Miles Davis: trumpet, keyboards; Kenny Garrett: saxophone; Adam Holzman: keyboards; Robert Irving III: keyboards; Foley: lead bass; Benny Reitveld: bass; Ricky Wellman: drums; Marilyn Mazur: percussion.

DVD8: July 21, 1989

Tracks: Intruder; New Blues; Perfect Way; Hannibal; Human Nature; Mr Pastorius; Tutu; Jilli; Time After Time; Jo Jo; The Senate/Me & U; Wrinkle; Portia. Runtime: 113 minutes. PCM Stereo, Dolby Surround 5.1, and DTS Digital Surround.

Personnel: Miles Davis: trumpet, keyboards; Rick Margitza: tenor saxophone; Adam Holzman: keyboards; Robert Irving III: keyboards; Foley: lead bass; Benny Reitveld: bass; Ricky Wellman: drums; Marilyn Mazur: percussion.

DVD9: July 20, 1990

Tracks: Hannibal; The Senate/Me & U; In The Night; Human Nature; Time After Time; Wrinkle; Tutu; Don't Stop Me Now; Carnival Time. Runtime: 93 minutes. PCM Stereo, Dolby Surround 5.1, and DTS Digital Surround.

Personnel: Miles Davis: trumpet, keyboards; Kenny Garrett: saxophone; Kei Akagi: keyboards; Foley: lead bass; Richard Patterson: bass; Ricky Wellman: drums; Erin Davis: percussion.

DVD10: July 8, 1991

Tracks: Introduction by Claude Nobs & Quincy Jones; Boplicity; Maids of Cadiz; The Duke; My Ship; Miles Ahead; Blues for Pablo; Orgone; Gone, Gone, Gone; Summertime; Here Comes De Honey Man; The Pan Piper; Solea. PCM Stereo, Dolby Surround 5.1, and DTS Digital Surround.

Personnel: Miles Davis: trumpet; Quincy Jones: conductor; Kenny Garrett: alto saxophone; Wallace Roney: trumpet, flugelhorn; Lew Soloff: trumpet; Miles Evans: trumpet; Tom Malone: trombone; Alex Foster: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone and flute; George Adams: tenor saxophone and flute; Gil Goldstein: keyboards; Delmar Brown: keyboards; Kenwood Dennard: drums (8); percussion; Benny Bailey: trumpet, flugelhorn ; Charles Benavent: bass, electric bass (12, 13); Grady Tate: drums; The George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band: orchestra. Runtime: 60 minutes.


Photo Credit
Stills taken from Miles! The Definitive Miles Davis at Montreux DVD Collection 1973-1991, courtesy of Eagle Eye Media


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