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Some dazzling displays of virtuosity, but overall lacks focus
on 22 October 2006
There is no doubt that the threading guitar of John McLaughlin, followed by the rocking trumpet solo to kick-start Right Off, gets the average (Open-minded) Miles Davis fan excited. What's not to be excited about? Miles Rockin' it up! McLaughlin's guitar! Hancock on keys! Cobham on drums! etc, etc.
A Tribute to Jack Johnson was by far the furthest Miles Davis had strayed from his jazz background. While Water Babies, Miles in the Sky, and Bitches Brew had threaded his original style with a fresh, new electric sound, JJ was an all out rock assault, set to be a triumphant musical backdrop to the film documentary about the titular boxer.
What I feel is right with this album is, first and foremost, Miles' playing. He completley owns proceedings throughout. There are also catchy riffs aplenty, and exuberant energy and style oozing from the drummer. However, JJ is swarming with problems.
In the 70s, Miles Davis became increasingly guilty of making tunes in the editing room. He gets away with this on Bitches Brew's opener, Pharaoh's Dance, but both tracks on offer here are pieced together so unlovingly, it's almost insulting to the listener. There is also the style of music being explored. Miles' fusion albums generally only work when actually fused with jazz. The straight rock of this album (along with the straight funk of Pangaea, or the straight pop of his 80s period) proves beyond him and his band. If people want to listen to rock music, they should listen to Hendrix or Zeppelin- both of which easily eclipse this effort. In turn, the tracks do not go in any real direction, and the album as a whole criminally wastes its considerable musical talent.
For me (a huge Miles fan), A Tribute To Jack Johnson represents a considerable dip in Miles Davis' form, a loveless collage against other people's handcrafted originals. It has more than a few good moments, but I consider my purchasing of this CD a minor waste of money.