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Miles Davis: Big Fun

Though its offshoots have produced countless approaches, the high-volume, 64th-note-oriented style is the one most folks identify as fusion. That’s partially because fusion is often short for jazz-rock fusion in a lot of folks’ minds, even though much of it-Herbie Hancock, for example-could be better defined as jazz-funk fusion. This view doesn’t address some of fusion’s best stuff, it divorces the genre from some of its most interesting progeny-electronic dance and modern funk/hip-hop (I once heard someone in a music store claim electronica was “a major break from musical tradition,” then, in the same breath blame “fusion stuff like Herbie Hancock” for Yngwie Malmsteen. Huh?).

Miles Davis’ electric-era music drew on both the rock and funk worlds, spawning substreams that went in both directions. The music on the Big Fun (Columbia Legacy, CK 63973; 73:55, 68: 41), On the Corner (Columbia Legacy CK 63980; 54:59) and Get Up With It (Columbia Legacy C2K 63970, 60:00, 64:07) reissues, like nearly all of his electric-era work, sounds radically different in a modern context: some sections of “Go Head John,” from Big Fun sound like they could have come from ’80s Davis offerings like Star People and Decoy, showing that Davis wasn’t above repackaging his own ideas for folks who missed the point the first time.

While Davis’ electric work was often intensely spacious, as on Get Up With It’s Duke tribute “He Loved Him Madly,” his later electric work was marked by even more interest in the bottom line and a sound that provided an eerie parallel to some of Funkadelic’s more atmospheric stuff. A lot of fusion, in retrospect, seems constructed all top-heavy like the Guggenheim; Davis’ model was built more like a pyramid, with the heaviest architecture at the base. On the Corner’s multiple “Black Satin”-ahem-remixes share conceptual space with Get Up With It’s “Calypso Frelimo” and the eerie, proto-junglist “Rated X,” from that same collection, with the rhythmic cross currents and textural landscapes, serves as the focal point.

Originally Published