Miles Beyond: Electric Explorations of Miles Davis, 1967-1991
The new book by Paul Tingen on the music of Miles Davis is a long time in coming. How did a book like this take so long to come around? Let's not go there. The author has his own thoughts about the ignorance, stubbornness and prejudice of so many jazz writers. They're worth reading and he doesn't pull punches.
But it doesn't matter. It's here. "Miles Beyond: The Electric Explorations of Miles Davis, 1967-1991." (300 pages, Watson Guptill Publications).
It's a tremendously researched work on Miles' most misunderstood and under appreciated career period. Tingen calls it the first in-depth exploration and analysis of Davis's controversial electric period and his unorthodox working methods. He's right.
And it's masterfully done. The first chapter, "Listen," is captivating and charismatic. It's like an elevator, taking the reader up to the 26h floor where the rest of the story will be told.
If there is anyone left who listens to Stanley Crouch (one of the prime purveyors of the sophomoric and embarrassing Miles Sold Out Theory) do yourself a favor and grab this book.
It seems lately that more people are getting into electric Miles, and this book gives them the tool with which to do it. It covers all of the stages, all of the bands, all of the personnel, all of the records. It explains what, how, where, when and the trickiest one it examines why. It's done with intelligence and flair.
This is not a Davis biography, but it does, necessarily, cover many aspects of his career. It does so with open and thoughtful consideration of various factors involved, whether societal or musical. Tingen is a guitarist who comes from the world of rock and he is very clear in his descriptions of the many recordings, music styles and influences, but the book is not at all beyond non- musicians. It has incredible detail about each recoding session and often each song. It is an interesting venture into a world into which few writers have stepped. While some have touched on certain areas, this work is complete. A detailed discography and "sessionography" is valuable and enjoyable for Miles devotees.
While Tingen is an admirer of the great artist and his music, it is a balanced, no-nonsense account. He talks of Miles and his human faults with frankness and honesty, but with a calm, compassionate and unbiased outlook. He provides information on Miles' effect on music and musicians with great style, often using the words of the musicians themselves, but viewing things though a lens that is concise and clear. Tingen's take on how Miles came out of the blues, and how everything may have sprung more from that than anything else, is definitely food for thought.
Other writers were quick to criticize electric Miles, so great was his acoustic music and so heavy, apparently, was their sense of loss or betrayal. But Tingen shows that Miles was, as usual, ahead of the pack. Consistently. He describes a science theory in which there are paradigm shifts significant events that have immense and wide- ranging impact that effect every aspect of society, including art. In music, Miles was responsible for several of those shifts, both in sound and style. And he shows the logical progression of the artist and conveys the complete sense of creativity and sacrifice that had to take place for the music to come to being. It flat out debunks any notion that Miles buckled under to record company pressure, or didn't like the music he was playing, or chased dollar signs. Miles progress, Tingen shows, was made while always taking with him a piece of what went before.
Why would someone listen to critics with a chip on their shoulder when here are the words of people like Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Jack DeJohnette, Sonny Fortune, Dave Holland, John McLaughlin and others who still marvel today at how creative the music was, how groundbreaking, and how unique was the way in which Miles called at various times a "mystic," "guru," "shaman," or "Zen teacher" made it come to life? And Tingen's commentary is very precise in support of it all. He doesn't like every album or every band and lets us know. You can agree or not. But he has a solid feel for the music and there is painstaking detail in his assessments.