Scottish music critic Tingen examines the controversial second half of Miles Davis's career, when he performed with electric bands.
One of the household names of jazz, Davis virtually invented the vocabulary of modern trumpet playing. But in the mid-1960s, on the album Bitches Brew, he added electric guitars and keyboards to his band and lost many of his original fans, who accused him of pandering to the rock-’n’-roll crowd. Tingen, whose background is in rock criticism, argues that Davis's later music, far from being a sell-out, arose from a serious attempt to incorporate the idioms of contemporary African-American music into the trumpeter's vocabulary. In support of this, he interviews many members of Davis's bands during that era. Their testimony sheds interesting light on Davis's approach. As a leader, he tended to assemble a group in whose abilities he felt confident, then throw them on their own resources by taking them into the recording studio with no advance notice of the material to be performed. The author makes a convincing case that Davis's openness to a variety of musical idioms harks back to his early days in blues-oriented bands and as a sideman to Charlie Parker. Tingen also provides a comprehensive list of Davis's supporting musicians and of his concert and recording activity during the latter half of his career, as well as insights into the trumpeter's troubled private life. The comments on specific performances tend toward the impressionistic. While unlikely to convince hard-core jazz fans that Davis's electric experiments deserve close listening, Tingen does make a good case for the continuity of the trumpeter's vision and for the importance and influence of the music he played in the ’60s and after.
A valuable revisionist look at one of the key figures of modern American music.