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46 of 65 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars the beginning of the end for Davis, 4 Jan. 2011
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This review is from: Live - Evil (Audio CD)
Before starting this review I have to say that I know that what I write will offend many of Davis' fans, but I feel it has to be said.

I have listened to jazz for over forty years, starting with Charlie Parker and Django Renhardt but as the world of fusion burgeoned, I embraced it. I can still hear myself saying that fusion was the future of music, but as I grow older I see that it was merely a cul de sac.

Even back then I avoided this album. I seem to remember hearing it at a friend's and dismissing it as chaotic. I already had In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew and over the years added much of Davis' work to my collection. His work with Parker, the Birth of Cool sessions, his several classic lineups of the fifties and sixties- even several from the era of this record. I still like many of them since many of those bands are wonderful, but gradually I came to an awareness of something rather unpleasant about Davis himself that fed into my appreciation of much of his music and this album in particular. I was 23 when I first noticed it in Bitches Brew but it is there in earlier work too. There is a rage and a cynicism that to me is most unappealing.

I know that the many changes in Davis' style throughout his life are seen as evidence of a restlessly creative individual. Sadly, I think Davis was a sick man many years before his death in 1991 at the relatively young age of 65 and I believe that those changes mirror the breakdown that was occuring in his life. Many have pointed to Davis' experiences as an artist in a racially prejudiced world and his being beaten by police outside a club in New York while at the peak of his recognition amongst jazz fans. As a white myself I cannot comprehend how such experiences might impact on a sensitive black musician, but I do know what it feels like to be beaten and harassed by the police. As a middle class individual brought up in relative affluence Davis didn't face the utter deprivation of say, Louis Armstrong who remembered throughout his life the kindnesses of the Jewish family in New Orleans that fed him as a youngster and gave him employment. Clearly, Armostrong's words and his exhultant music demonstrate that it is possible to rise above life's adversities, however much difficulty Davis had in doing so.

There are parallels in the lives of Davis and Duke Ellington. Both were brought up in relative affluence. Both were aware of racial prejudice, both celebrated black culture and both were glorified by audiences both black and white even if in Elligton's early days he played largely to affluent whites. But Ellington remained to his end an elder statesman while Davis' final years were one of disintegration and almost a fading away even if new fans came to him in those desperately tragic final years.

Which brings me to this album. For many years I have admired the Brazilian genius, Hermeto Pascoal. Having discovered rather late of Pascoal's contribution to this album, I decided to buy it and see whether my dismissal of it all those years back was unjustified or not. Sadly, as far as this record is concerned, whilst my expertise as a musician has grown considerably, my feelings about this record haven't.

Yes, there is much virtuosity in this record. Much wonderful playing from many musicians who are still important figures today in the world of jazz forty years on, but for me the album represents something very disturbing. Not just the music, which for all its virtuosity is chaotic and uncohesive, but the imagery of the artwork also disturbs. A beautiful pregnant black woman seemingly has the spirit of life breathed into her unborn child, whilst on the obverse, a reptilian figure described by the artist as based upon J Edgar Hoover sits, a menacing figure of evil and decay. But this figure has blonde hair piled on its head in the style of a woman- a white woman. This cannot be accidental and what does it say? For despite what seems a coverup by the person who painted it that it represents a hate figure to both blacks and whites of the seventies in the States, the artwork of this record seemed at the time to betray something of Davis' racial attitudes and still does to this day.

Another observation I cannot avoid: Although it is generally accepted that Pascoal contributed many of his compositions to this album, Davis is listed as composer of all tracks. The beautiful melody of Nem um Talvez must be one of Pascoal's. Of course, those with substantial collections of Davis' work know all too well that he did this to Parker too and to Bill Evans who made such a profound contribution to Davis great album Kind of Blue and who, contrary to the credits wrote the masterful 'Blue in Green'. Davis, sensitive as he was to exploitation of a racial nature, wasn't averse to using financial exploitation himself and seemingly on this matter, he was racially colourblind.

For all my criticisms of Davis the man and the artist, many will still find enough in this album to justify its relatively low asking price. Many will wonder at the musicianship and perhaps even the beauty of songs such as Nem um Talvez, but for me it represents the beginning of the end for Davis and a sad reflection of the greatness of some of his earlier albums.
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Showing 1-10 of 22 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 17 Feb 2011, 20:22:27 GMT
Your comments on this record, and on Miles Davis' career in general are very interesting. When I started listening to Jazz in my late teens, I loved the first Miles records I heard, but these were all from the fifties and sixties. When I first heard Bitches Brew, I couldn't believe it was the same man. I have grown to appreciate this era of Miles' music-including the recording you are reviewing here- over the years, and to appreciate the raw, fierce energy of it all, but I think your reservations are well founded. As well as energy, there is a lot of ugliness here as well, and it is sad that this seemed to over-take his unique lyricism as he got older.Still, the man was unique, and nobody could accuse him of stagnating. As for his ''appropriation'' of the tune Blue In Green, its worth bearing in mind that Bill Evans is one of the few white musicians-or,indeed,people of any colour-that Miles comes close to expressing any affection for in his notoriously bad tempered autobiography. Like the album title said-''Everybody Digs Bill Evans''-even Miles!

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Feb 2011, 23:04:02 GMT
Dear Robert,

Thanks for your comments. I accept everything you say about Miles, but it does pain me to listen to Live Evil I'm afraid. I like in a Silent Way and even Jack Johnson if I'm in the right mood but Live Evil is too much for me I'm afraid. Actually, I'm a Clifford Brown man and wonder what might have happened had he lived. He had an utterly joyous spirit that sadly was lacking in an awful lot of Davis' work. Nevertheless, no collection would be complete without records of his.

You mention Bill Evans. I am a letcomer to his work but like almost everyone seemingly, I have fallen under his spell. I find it so tragic that he really didn't find much like happiness in his all too short life. I have his biography but haven't got round to reading it. From the comments of Evans' friends, he was a very special man. ALthough addicted, whenever he received a large payout, he would settle all of his debts. I understand that he was very upset at Davis taking the credit for Blue in Green. Davis was a wealthy guy. He certainly didn't need the royalties as much as Evans.

Anyway, if not already obvious from your comments, I agree wholheartedly with your reference to Everybody Digs Bill Evans. Amen to that!

That would have been it, but it just struck me. I read at the time of Davis' death that whenever a new musician came into his band, he would seduce them. I have never heard any other references to Davis being bisexual. It seemed so unexpected a comment. I've not seen Davis' autobiography. Does Davis mention anything like that?

Best wishes,

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Mar 2011, 21:10:00 GMT
Dear Mr. Morris

I'm so pleased you responded to my post. There is an awful lot of received wisdom about Miles Davis around, and it was such a relief to read comments that I agreed with but had been a bit too self conscious to admit to! The fact that you are a Clifford Brown man is an indication of impeccable taste-he really was a master. The early generation of be-bop trumpeters sometimes sacrificed sheer velocity in their playing to pureness of tone. Some of them sounded a bit spluttery and even flatulent- and then there's Clifford Brown. He had an incredibly rich, singing tone, and a clean articulation-you heard each of the notes he played, and they were all placed perfectly. He also composed some lovely tunes, and you are absolutely right about his joyous spirit. He set the bench-mark for trumpet playing in Jazz. His early death was an enormous loss to all of music.

I have to confess that I have never read Miles' autobiography all the way through.When it was first published, I was a destitute student, and I read sections of it in various different book-shops, mainly with reference to the index. The general tone was so unpleasant that I never felt the need, or indeed the desire to read it all the way through, so I'm afraid I can't comment on whether Miles admits to bi-sexuality. However, I do remembner one story that he tells about the planning of the Kind of Blue recording which may be unconsciously revealing on Miles' part-he relates that he told Bill Evans that before he could play in the band, he would need to have sex with all of the musicians together, as a sort of initiation ceremony. Miles seems to find Bill's understandable confusion and upset at this suggestion highly amusing-understandably, Bill declines, and then Miles tells him it was all a joke, and then they all had a laugh about it-according to the book. I couldn't help thinking, on reading this, that it wasn't funny at all, and in fact sounded a bit creepy. I suppose it might make a bit more sense in the context of the possibilty of Miles' sexuality being ambiguous.

Its always great to hear from a fellow admirer of Bill Evans-I've seen there's a few biographies of his around-let me know if the one you have is any good, and I'll try to get hold of a copy.

Best Wishes

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Mar 2011, 11:03:08 GMT
Dear Robert,

Sorry about the delay in getting back to you but I've had a lot of colds this winter and am still struggling!

I have considered buying Davis' autobiography but have so far put it off. From what you say, it won't be on my list. I'm afraid I haven't got round to Evans' either, but there is something very touching about what those who knew him say about him. After listening to the Complete Village Vanguard recordings I was deeply moved and read 'The Poet' and essay about him by Gene Lees. It's in Reading Jazz edited by Ribert Gottleib. I think it's still available. I may have said this already but although as a junkie he ended up owing lots of money out, whenever he came into substantial money he paid back his debts and in full. I know we shouldn't turn jazz into a moral thing, but tortured and damaged as he evidently was, something very beautiful coursed through that man's veins- apart from the junk that is- and the profundity of his music is a gift to us.

I made a musical discovery recently that has shocked me and where I find myself listening to a wonderful Brazilian artist almost to the exclusion of anyone else. She's called Elis Regina. My daughter is a singer and I had been trying to turn her onto Brazilian music. I had been looking at Hermeto, who of course was on the Live Evil sessions. I found him on Youtube performing at the 1979 Montreax Jazz festival accompanying a singer I'd never heard before. The music was strange with some outrageous liberties taken by Hermeto with the harmonies and even the tempos, but this lady kept up with him. On checking her out, I found she died in 1982. She was- and still is- a national treasure in Brazil. When she died thousands came to pay their respects at her 'lying in state'.

She is a remarkable singer who has perfect diction and probably perfect pitch. She gave her bands a hard time and was known as 'little pepper' or 'hurricane'. Her album, 'Elis and Tom' is available on Amazon and is the nearest thing to perfection I have heard in the genre. Her second husband Cesar Camargo Mariano was accompanyist and arranger on the sessions and he did a beautiful job. I'd never heard of him either but he is a genius. It is a profound album. However, and this is what amazes me about her, this is only one facet of her amazing singing career. Although a lot of stuff is available on Amazon it is very expensive- apart from Elis and Tom that is. I discovered that people from Brazil are actually selling her stuff on a well know auction house.

Anyway, enough of me rabbitting on.

Keep well,

Kevin Morris

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Oct 2011, 11:28:41 BST
Falstaff says:
Interesting comments. I would generally agree that the 1970s represents the beginning of a decline for Davis: although In A Silent Way is unquestioningly beautiful, I've never really gotten Bitches Brew (perhaps I'm not listening to it enough?) and much of Miles' 70s records seem like just long jams which, while initially stimulating, tend to get a bit tiresome come the twentieth minute... I suppose Miles had already started out in this direction with Kind of Blue and Milestones, but this is taking it rather further. He spent the second half of the seventies in a drug-addled self-imposed exile during which he didn't pick up his trumpet; with hindsight one can begin to see the deterioration in his music from 1970 onwards as the music gets uglier.

In his 80s comeback though he's even worse; although the ugliness is gone, so has most semblance of musical interest. Jazz/Funk/Rock has largely given way to what are basically pop songs with a Trumpet, and the 80s records sound much more dated than the earlier electric stuff.

I think while you are probably right about Davis' politics, one can still appreciate the music. Wagner was a raving anti-semite but that doesn't make his operas any less wonderful. As for Miles beying gay/bisexual? I don't think there's any evidence of that, beyond the Bill Evans anecdote which is clearly just an example of Miles trying to embarass / humiliate Evans, who was famously timid (and probably rather gullible). Cruel perhaps, but Miles was probably, as you suggest, a rather unpleasant man.

Posted on 23 Dec 2011, 10:20:33 GMT
Mr. D. Bain says:
Whilst I agree with your review of the music on this live CD set, I can't help but think that you're review is somewhat over-analytical. I am also a huge fan of Davis' recordings, I have also read several biographies and also the Davis autobiography, and you are right inasmuch as he does not come across as a very saintly individual. He certainly did take credit for the compositional efforts of other musicians. His attitude and behaviour towards the women in his life was at times appaling. He was a heroin addict for a period in his life during which time he probably gained few friends. However many of those who knew him. such as Quincey Jones praise him as a person as well as a musician. When reviiewing a recording however, I don't think that the kind of person Miles Davis was, is relevant to the merits of that recording. By all accounts Beethoven was a bit of a nasty sod but this doesn't degrade his compositional genius in any way. The type of person any musician is will no doubt affect their artistic output in some way, but not necessarily in a bad way. Duke Ellington once said that there are only two types of music, good and bad. The music on Live Evil may be bad, it is certainly not my own favourite, in fact I wouldn't rate it in my top 50 Miles albums. However musical taste is to a large dgree subjective, and many people do like this album. Whatever it's merits or failings are I think the album should be rated purely on the music, sound quality, packaging etc and not on the perceived peronality of the artist in question.

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Jan 2012, 16:18:54 GMT
Last edited by the author on 29 Jan 2012, 16:23:05 GMT
Of course, you are correct that in many ways my 'review' was about Miles Davis the man. I do acknowledge that many people like Live Evil, but I am sure you would agree with me that there are many in the jazz world who deplored Davis' later excursions. However, there was a reason why I wished to look at Miles Davis the man and the appearance of albums such as Live Evil and that was because I wished to draw out the parallel between the disintegration of the man and the similar processes that were at play in the man's music.

Of course, your comments in many ways underline the old debate as to whether music is abstract or whether it can reflect or even illuminate human experience. I believe firmly that it can and I believe that by the time Davis was recording Live Evil, he had little to express but a great deal of rage and more than a little self pity.

When I was in my twenties, and back in the hippy days, wearing one's heart on one's sleeve seemed an acceptable thing to do for twenty somethings but for a man approaching fifty and with the benefit of hindisght, already rather sick, I would have rather that he had at least cloaked his emotionalism in a degree of formal structure. In the absence of any life affirming qualities, I feel it would have at least made the pain in his music a little easier to bear.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Jun 2012, 01:02:31 BST
H. S. Crow says:
Many of the genius artists were tortured souls so it's not surprising that this leaked into their work at times or was even a major strand.
I think Miles was a very authentic artist so expressed what he thought and felt through his music without needing to water it down to make it more palatable for those with weak stomachs (or ears or eyes). This is aimed more at the work he did up until his temporary retirement in 76.

The idea that he would have `cloaked his emotionalism in a degree of formal structure' is very unappealing to me. Are you suggesting that he should deny what he felt and hide behind the artifice of structure?

`In the absence of any life affirming qualities, I feel it would have at least made the pain in his music a little easier to bear.'

Life consists of many qualities including death and destruction so it sounds as if you are suggesting that artists should tone down the qualities that you aren't comfortable with so enabling you to avoid them.
I can fully appreciate that people that don't want to experience such qualities in music will look elsewhere and rightly so. But to suggest that artists curtail themselves from expressing `difficult' emotions seems absurd. It would lead to a lowest common denominator effect which would have a very limiting and detrimental impact on the Arts. I appreciate some New Age music but I don't want to listen to it all the time.
I'm not a big fan of this album but it has its moments for me.

In reply to an earlier post on 17 Jun 2012, 17:03:46 BST
Last edited by the author on 17 Jun 2012, 17:07:46 BST
Justix says:
I agree with H S Crow above - much of the very best music was and is made by tortured souls and I don't think you should ever seek to 'like' or even normalise your heroes. You can end up very disappointed and why would you its about the music surely? Jazz is about the free spirit and that's precisely how Miles Davis created and performed his music. God forbid as Mr Crow says that we ask an artist to structure his music and curtail his emotions - that would create the lowest common denominator in music/the arts (like X Factor) and would destroy any semblance of true art. I love Miles Davis's music even though I could not be described as an expert but this debate has been quite fascinating and well argued by all.

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Jun 2012, 20:41:02 BST
Dear Justix,

The point I was making regarding form was by and large a rhetorical one. Form is extremely important in music as in all arts, although ultimately its importance varies according to the values in society and on fashion. Much of the jazz of the late fifties and through the seventies threw away many of the formal elements of the music in a way that I celebrated at the time as the future of the music, but I find that nowadays the formal elements of the music have tended to resume their important role, although obviously I am generalising.

As for Miles, and his album Live Evil, I have argued that by then Miles had little left to express other than his own disintegration as a human being. I would argue that whilst a young person might find this album quite exciting in the way that anarchy often seems to the young, forty years on from my first hearing of this album, I find it unappealing. In a similar way, a film of a person cutting off parts of himself bit by bit could be argued by some as expressive of something deeply artistic, whilst I would tend to view it as being merely painfully voyeuristic.

As for your comment on tortured souls and the very best of music, I find myself feeling that whilst in some cases you might be right, in many cases, this argument doesn't ring true.

In the year 2000 one of the American jazz magazines conducted a poll of top players as to who was the best jazz musician of all time. The winner? Louis Armstrong. Listen to his Hot fives and sevens recordings which are genrally viewed as art of the highest order. Listen to his recordings with Fletcher Henderson with many of his pick up bands of the thirties and his later recordings with Jack Teagarden in the forties and fifties and you will hear a man who had a sense of exultence. He was the great originator of jazz singing also. Every jazz singer owes him a debt and many recognise it. Armstrong's sense of timing is wonderful. There was a time when black radicals saw Armstrong as an Uncle Tom but almost everyone sees him now for what he was- a genius and the father of us all. He had a terrible early life but he rose above it. He most certainly wasn't a tortured individual.

Duke Ellington was brought up in a middle class family. He knew of racial predjudice but he was brought up to regard himself as as good as any white man. His music expresses all of what it is to be human together with the pride of what it is to be black. He is regarded by many as the greatest US composer of the twentieth century. He most certainly wasn't tortured although like all individuals he knew what suffering was.

Charlie Parker was a heroin addict and he certainly knew hard times as a consequence, but everybody who knew him said he was a wonderful person to be with when he wasn't sick, he loved life, arguably to excess, but I wouldn't view him as a tortured individual. His fellow bebop originator Dizzie Gillespie, who went on producing music of the highest standard almost to the end of his life wasn't tortured either.

Some great jazz musicians may have been tortured. Bill Evans may have been and Coltrane may also have been. He most certainly was driven- but then again, to be a jazz musician one must be driven. It is said that to be a really good player one must put in at least ten thousand hours- that takes real dedication!

In the wider musical world, I would argue that Mozart most certainly wasn't a tortured soul and I suspect Bach wasn't either although there are aspects of Beethoven's life that appear tragic.

I tend to suspect that at times of social disintegration such as ours, disintegration becomes an important element in the arts and the gifted but troubled, with their special insights into disintegration, become lauded for their insights, but in more settled times other human qualities are valued more highly. It also strikes me that disintegration tends to be more greatly valued by the young. We older souls tend to value music that expresses positive human values.
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