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DVD/Video/Film Reviews

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

By Published: November 8, 2011
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
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
—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
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.

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