After Miles Davis’ return to recording on 1981’s The Man with the Horn, the trumpeter/composer continued to make fresh albums for Columbia: Star People (1983), Decoy (1984), and You’re Under Arrest (1985). This was a different brand of mangled funk and skewed blues from Miles, more literal, less impressionistic. While the playing was inspired, the ’82-’85 material barely caught on with the public (or the critics), and the records got lost as Davis turned toward Warner Bros. and the acclaimed Tutu (1986). What did we miss? Plenty, as detailed by this, the seventh Bootleg Series volume of previously unreleased Miles studio rarities and live music.
Poring over the outtakes from Star People and Decoy, there’s something bittersweet in what we now know was longtime producer Teo Macero’s last call with Davis. Doubling on trumpet and keyboards (without overdubs), Miles offers versions of “Santana” and “Celestial Blues” that are far more emotionally raw than the renditions on Star People. Saxophonist Bill Evans’ solos get free room to breathe and interact with Davis’ dramatic, near-silent tones. If you want something even rawer, check out the tension-filled takes on “Freaky Deaky.” Produced by Miles with Darryl Jones’ flywheel bass and percussionist Mino Cinélu’s kicks and chinks high in the mix, these 1983 Decoy sessions come from a cassette recording courtesy of guitarist John Scofield.
A far better and bolder album than Decoy was 1985’s You’re Under Arrest, renowned as the record on which Miles discovered the ’80s pop of Michael Jackson and Cyndi Lauper. The previously unissued takes from those sessions show him similarly appropriating Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do with It” as part of his muted but molten-lava-tempered smooth jazz brand. Davis’ long beloved “Theme from Jack Johnson” gets a curt funk revival and Marcus Miller’s haunted “Hopscotch,” a live-Miles fan favorite from 2002’s The Complete Miles Davis at Montreux box, provides double trouble in a crepuscular slow version and a frenetic fast take.
For those looking for more live action, That’s What Happened’s final disc comes from the Theatre St. Denis in Montreal in 1983 with the tight ensemble of Davis, Scofield, Evans, Jones, Cinélu, and drummer Al Foster knocking the funky bottom out of the prog-meets-Prince “What It Is” and adding some much-needed salt and pepper to the once caramel-sweet “Star on Cicely.”
A buoyant bridge between his Columbia finale and the world tunings of Tutu, That’s What Happened is a must-have for Miles novices and aficionados alike.