Columbia Records' reissue arm, Legacy Recordings, issues The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions, a comprehensive five CD set documenting the output of Miles Davis and his band between February 2 and June 4, 1970. These sessions would yield the full material for A Tribute To Jack Johnson (1970) and also contribute to Live Evil (1970), Get Up With It (1972), Big Fun (1974), and Directions (1980).
In their flamboyant lifestyle and mutual distrust of white America, Davis and Johnson shared in the essence of conflict. Johnson, the world's first black heavyweight champion, and Davis, the Dark Magus of jazz, were more than trendsetters. They were brash, bold black men cutting against the established grain. As a skilled trumpeter and boxer, Davis also understood how discipline, technique, and force were requisite for both sport and music.
This exquisite union of power and grace characterizes the album, A Tribute To Jack Johnson. Using two tracks, "Right Off" and "Yesternow," Davis' adroit combination of jazz and rock on this album is skillful, deliberate and masterful. As always, Davis surrounds himself with musicians keen on creativity. Starting with John McLaughlin's opening rock guitar swagger on "Right Off," the album establishes a solid foundation of rhythm that required Davis to move away from his associations with free jazzers Dave Holland and Chick Corea and employ musicians in complete faith of an unwavering, propulsive pulse.
19 year-old Michael Henderson, having already proven himself with pop artists Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder, provides wicked, soul-inflected bass lines. With protean drummer Billy Cobham, persistent on his beats, the rhythm section affirms a "far-in" set. On both tracks, rhythm is vital, as it paces a funk-nasty attack on "Right Off," while dwelling on brood and reverence on "Yesternow." Throughout, Davis is zealous with his use of jazz. On "Right Off," the trumpeter is swift and terse. Punctuating statements with rapidity and force, he paces phrases with succinct swing, while using McLaughlin's wah drenched distortions as an axis for his horn's jazz jive. In turn, McLaughlin responds as a swivel for rock, instigating the band into an elite arena of fusion. Davis and his men astonish on this track.
Producer Teo Macero's splice work is of considerable charm as well. With numerous tasteful insertions on both tracks, Davis rightfully credits him on the original liner notes with, "He did it again." On "Yesternow," Macero allows the hypnotic cadence of drum and bass to induce his sinuous weave of cuts and fades from "Shhh/Peaceful," "Right Off," "Willie Nelson," and "The Man Nobody Saw." Audacious in its intent, the results are even more shocking as the whole gradually becomes greater than its parts.
Outside of the music, there have always been questions about the veracity of the original credits on A Tribute To Jack Johnson. Abated by Macero's heavy editing and fueled by stories of Herbie Hancock's serendipitous participation, the contributions of numerous un-credited musicians are finally exposed on this reissue. Sonny Sharrock, Bennie Maupin, Wayne Shorter, Corea, Jack DeJohnette, Keith Jarrett, Ron Carter, Holland and others finally get their dues. This new set has 16 tunes presented in chronological order; "Willie Nelson," "Johnny Bratton," "Archie Moore," "Go Ahead John," "Duran," "Sugar Ray," "Right Off," "Yesternow," "Honky Tonk," "Ali," "Konda," "Nem Um Talvez," "Little High People," "Selim," 'Little Church," and "The Mask." With numerous alternate takes to most, there are 42 tracks on this set, with 17 previously unreleased performances.
Personnel: Miles Davis, John McLaughlin, Bennie Maupin, Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter, Jack DeJohnette, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, Steve Grossman, Michael Henderson, Ron Carter, Sonny Sharrock, Airto, Dave Holland, Wayne Shorter, Hermeto Pascoal, and others. Produced by Teo Macero.