Perfect Way is the remnant of a planned six-CD box set, subsequently reduced to four CDs and then finally emerging as this more modest two-disc package. Miles Davis completists will be gnashing their teeth over the continuing unavailability of much of the work he recorded for Warner Brothers during the last six years of his life, but Perfect Way does include five previously unreleased tracks, as well as selections from three studio recordings, one live compilation and two soundtracks.
Disc one features four pieces from the controversial Tutu; two related, unreleased tracks from the earlier Rubber Band Sessions; four tracks from Amandla; plus a soundtrack duet with bluesman John Lee Hooker from the Dennis Hopper movie The Hot Spot and a guest appearance with jazz vocalist Shirley Horn. Upon its release, Tutu horrified jazz purists who still worshiped at the shrine of the late 1960s pre-electric Davis quintet, but producer/programmer Marcus Miller’s mixture of dub, funk and Weather Report-style fusion is skilfully done, with Davis fully committed to the music and playing with panache. Likewise with Amandla, which genre hops comfortably between ballads, disco, swing and African zouk. The Amandla selections included here – Catembé, Mr Pastorius, Hannibal and the title-track – are well chosen.
Disc two will surely bring the second-guessers out in force. It includes two pieces from the Dingo movie soundtrack, two riff-based selections from Doo-Bop, three collaborations with Quincy Jones at the 1991 Montreux Jazz Festival, two selections from the Live Around the World CD and three previously unreleased tracks from the 1986 Nice Jazz Festival. The Doo-Bop tracks are undistinguished, and the Quincy Jones material, which revisits classic Davis/Gil Evans pieces from the late 1950s – Summertime, Solea and The Pan Piper – is an affectionate tribute, but given Davis’ failing health at the time the originals are far superior. However, the two Dingo soundtrack pieces, arranged by Michel Legrand, are vintage hard bop, and Davis displays his signature melancholic lyricism on a lengthy live version of Time After Time. Additional selections from Live Around the World would have been welcome, but the three unreleased tracks from the Nice Jazz Festival – Portia, Carnival and Human Nature – are worthy replacements. They capture Davis and his 1986 touring band in absolutely top form.
Like most anthologies of its kind, this is a mixed bag at best, but it nonetheless contains convincing evidence of Davis’ continuing artistic ability and relevance during his final years.
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