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Some Notable Highpoints
on 3 October 2014
This 1989 album was Miles Davis' third album collaboration with soul/jazz-funk man (and long-time Luther Vandross collaborator) and bass guitarist Marcus Miller. As was often Davis' wont, he assembled an impressive array of talent for Amandla, including his earlier (1960s/1970s) collaborators, Don Alias on percussion (who played on Bitches Brew) and Al Foster on drums as well as established jazz/jazz funk musicians Joe Sample and George Duke (both keyboards), Omar Hakim (drums), Steve Kahn (guitar) and Paulinho da Costa (percussion). Davis also continued to nurture upcoming jazz players - here notably alto and soprano sax player Kenny Garrett and 'lead guitarist' Foley (who, for reasons known only to himself, played a bass guitar tuned and processed so as to create the illusion of a 'lead guitar' sound!).
Miller composed six of the eight tunes here and Amandla's predominant sound is Miles on muted horn, mid-paced compositions with a funky backbeat underpinned by Miller's bass playing, with solos from Garrett's sax and Foley's 'guitar'. The album doesn't exactly set the pulses racing (well not mine, anyway), but rather is nicely infectious with some standout moments. Each of Big Time and Hannibal feature infectious hooks, with the latter containing some nice muted playing from Miles, as he and Garrett eventually begin to open out and play off one another and start to cook (one of the album's rare such moments). Elsewhere, each of Jo-Jo and Jilli - the latter composed by young musician John Bigham, another case of Davis promoting new talent - contain catchy riffs and nice slap-bass from Miller, whilst the album's title tune contains some beautiful muted playing from Davis. For me, though, the album's other standout is Mr Pastorius - an exquisite ballad, with Miles playing an open horn for the only time here and excelling in some slow and quite intricate playing, demonstrating that he had not completely lost his 'chops', as well as concluding the album with a brilliantly understated finale.
In a sense, it is probably unfair to compare Miles' later (80s/90s) albums - particularly his collaborations with soul-funk man Marcus Miller where you get the impression that Davis was more in 'following' rather than 'leading' mode (though still influencing, no doubt) - with his seminal recordings from the preceding three decades, and whilst Amandla is not exactly ground-breaking musically it still provides some catchy grooves, infectious listening and some great moments of Davis' playing.