Miles DavisThat's What Happened: Live in Germany 1987 Eagle Eye Media
The exhaustive (and expensive) 20CD box set, The Complete Miles Davis at Montreux 1973-1991
(Columbia/Legacy, 2002), finally set the record straight about the late trumpeter's often misunderstood and overly criticized final decade. Admittedly, many of his studio releases were inconsistent and, at times, flat out weak, with his 1985 swan song for Columbia, You're Under Arrest
particularly forgettable. But in performance, Davis was able to take even the most syrupy pop song like Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" and, especially, the late Michael Jackson's mega-hit "Human Nature," and turn them respectively into poignant balladry that featured the crying, vocal-like sound of his Harmon muted trumpet and a powerful tour-de-force for his saxophonistsmost notably Kenny Garrett
, who worked with Davis from 1987 through to his passing. But while the Montreux
box features energetic and complete performances from almost every year between 1983 and 1991, it misses out on 1987a year that saw a number of shifts towards the direction that would increasingly occupy his attention for the last four years of his life, before passing away in September, 1991, two short months after the brief set from Nice, France, that completes the box.
That's What Happened: Live in Germany 1987 nicely fills that gap, with Davis changing rhythm sections, recruiting a 26 year-old Garrett and swapping conventional guitar (the final commercially documented six-stringer being Robben Ford, who made the trumpeter's 1986 Montreux performance one of the hottest shows of the box) for the solo bass guitar of Joseph "Foley" McCreary who, like Garrett, would be a mainstay of his touring group through to his passing. It's a relatively short show, about one hour, but features everything that made Davis a must-see at the time: a potent rhythm section as capable of high velocity workouts like the opening "Medley: One Phone Call/Street Scenes/That's What Happened" as it is the more slinky groove of "Tutu," one of two tracks from Davis' first Warner Bros. release, 1986's Tutu (the darker, Spanish-tinged "Portia" being the other), and the straighter pop-centricity of "Time After Time"; soloists who knew how to follow Davis' lead and move from economic interaction to equally spare but incredibly visceral show-stoppers; two keyboardists who, while texturally reeking of the time, manage to create a rich pad of sound; and a percussionist who, never getting in the way of the groove, proves to be one of Davis' most creative foils of the decade.
Darryl Jones, Miles Davis
Bassist Darryl Joneswho'd played with another Davis alum, guitarist John Scofield, both inside and out of the trumpeter's groups between 1984 and 1986, and has since gone on to become The Rolling Stones' bassist-on-demandwas brought back into the fold and was a distinct improvement over Felton Crewes, who toured with Davis in 1986; lithe and flexible, yet able to create the deepest groove regardless of context. Working hand-in-glove with drummer Ricky Wellman, he rarely got any upfront time, but is felt throughout the set. Davis recruited Wellmana Washington, DC-based drummer who was an expert at the go-go beat that was of great interest to the trumpeter at the timeanother significant improvement over his nephew, Vincent Wilburn Jr., who was at best an adequate drummer with less than perfect time. Together, Jones and Wellman drive the relentlessly high octane "Medley" and work empathically to help bolster the equally unrelenting build of Garrett's solo at the end of "Human Nature," a solo spot that's an early sign of things to come, as Garrett proves capable of milking even a single note long past it's "best by" date, driving the crowd to a frenzy.
Foley doesn't possess the same broad vernacular as his predecessors, but what he lacks in sophistication he makes up for in attitude, turning his solo on Davis' greasy "New Blues" into a rock-posturing, post-Hendrixian feature of vicious intensity, while his solo on "Medley" demonstrates a capacity for bop-inflection in phrasing if not in harmony. Playing largely in the upper register of his lightly strung electric bass, he also provides the kind of funkified accompaniment that Davis was looking for at the time, given his preoccupation with the music of artists including James Brown and Prince.