To Helvetia And Back
Nowhere is the line between genius and madness so thin and permeable in recent music than in the work of Miles Davis; nor is there any critical divide deeper in jazz than the line drawn by Bitches Brew in 1969. Opinion on the 22 years of music he continued to make thereafter is still fundamentally fissured on the issue of whether what Davis played in his long final period can be called music at all. This gigantic 20-disc boxed set, retailing at an amazing £204.99, is a monumental case for the defence.
During the 1969-91 period, live music became central to Davis' aesthetic, his studio albums serving as laboratory studies for what occurred at maximum intensity on stage before audiences. Relatively little of this live music has been preserved on disc until now. Miles At Montreux is an enormous discographical step forward in the ongoing assessment of the man's music of its time.
Consisting of 10 concerts recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1973, between 1984 and 1986, and then between 1988 and 1991, plus the bonus of a gig in Nice in 1991, this enormous set offers many insights, not least into the basic fact that Miles' 'last period' was actually two sub-periods: the wild 1969-75 era and the more conservative, no-further-out-than-Weather Report music of 1980-1991.
Booing vies with applause after the opening section of the 1973 performance, featuring Dave Liebman and Reggie Lucas-and, indeed, the music continually veers between the sublime and the ridiculous, warranting such opposing reactions.
There's far less rough-stroke artistry to be found in the 1984-91 material. Everything is kept tight and neat, even over longish spans. At the same time, while the recording quality is exemplary, the playing is erratic, ranging from brilliant to embarrassing (Miles' solos on "Time After Time", for example).
A final verdict? Perhaps best left for a few years yet. Worth getting? If you're self-selected by the nature of the buy, certainly. Less fannish listeners should wait for the concerts to be issued separately, and pick and choose by line-up.
Rating: 4 / 10