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More Miller than Miles, `Tutu' defines Davis' late period and confirms his relentless quest for the new
on 18 July 2011
`Tutu', released in 1986 was one of Miles' last works and defines his later, `electronic' period. Sometimes criticised for being more the work of the highly talented multi-instrumentalist Marcus Miller than of Miles himself in the same way that `Porgy and Bess' and `Sketches of Spain' might be seen as `Gil Evans Albums', nevertheless Miles' signature style and virtuoso trumpet playing define Tutu's principle character.
The history of this project is that Miles' new contract with Warner Brothers stipulated that all songwriting credits henceforth should belong to WB rather than to Miles himself. To get around this legal irritant Miller was hired to compose the main theme for each piece as a framework over which Miles could solo, and took all legal songwriting credit. Miller has been described as "A producer who could play as well as a player who could produce" and did a good job: the resulting electronic rhythms and synth-dominant sound gives `Tutu' a distinctively 1980s feel which leads some to claim that Miles had `re-invented' jazz for the fourth or fifth time in his illustrious and multiply-groundbeaking career of continuous innovation. Well, that's stretching things a bit: `Tutu' is OK but hardly `great', in the same way `Do-Bop' is OK but not really a classic.
`Tutu' was certainly a new, fresh sound in 1986 and unlike anything else at the time which could be found under the `jazz' category. The album has a lot of energy and Miles' trumpet playing is as inventive and energetic as ever. However after several numbers it can begin to sound samey, and in the context of Davis' long career and particularly high-points such as `Kind of Blue,' `In a Silent Way' and `Bitches Brew', `Tutu' is justifiably seen by most (but not all) fans as a second-tier effort and not really one of his best works. The album is, however, easily accessible to the new-to-jazz listener and even to people who profess to `not like jazz' but are OK with high-energy electronic instrumental music, and so offers a gateway to the deeper and more interesting musical milestones of the genre.
RIP Miles. You never failed to surprise and delight us, even with your more hit-and-miss projects like `Tutu.'