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Miles Davis: That’s What Happened: Live in Germany 1987

During a freewheeling half-hour interview that serves as a bonus feature on this DVD, Miles Davis is asked a number of questions regarding the controversy that has often surrounded his music. Somewhat dubious of the interviewer’s intent, Davis defensively dismisses it as a concern only of critics (white critics in particular). His explanation: “I bought a bottle of Campbell’s soup and I jazzed it up a little bit; that’s what they say in the U.S.A.”

That head-scratcher is, in a way, emblematic of the music that comprises the main segment of the program, a live performance recorded in Germany in 1987: As oblique as it is, it sort of makes sense. The concert-most of the material taken from the albums You’re Under Arrest and Tutu-exhibits all of the dichotomies that marked late-period Miles, a time when Davis and his bands might, within the same show, produce exhilarating, highly charged funk jams, dark and mysterious blues and syrupy sweet, empty-calorie schmaltz.

Ironically, it’s the latter category, personified here by Davis’ take on the Cyndi Lauper hit “Time After Time,” that most pleases the German audience, despite its near-total dearth of sparks. By that time, the octet has already whipped through a scorching introductory medley of “One Phone Call,” “Street Scenes” and “That’s What Happened,” a pastoral “New Blues,” a brooding “Tutu” and a saccharine cover of the Michael Jackson vehicle “Human Nature.” But one gets the impression that the reason “Time After Time” receives the most enthusiastic ovation is because it’s the first time during the show that Davis has soloed at any appreciable length-and soloed in an accessible manner. The audience is finally getting what it paid for.

Characteristically aloof, hunched over with trumpet bell at his knees, Davis, the perpetual mystery man, spends most of the gig with his back turned to the audience. He leaves the heavy lifting to a young Kenny Garrett on sax and flute, the rhythm section (bassist Darryl Jones cooks) and, especially, Joseph “Foley” McCreary, who plays a modified four-string bass that allows him to fill the role of lead guitarist and shred with the best of ’em. Not until the final tune, the regal ballad “Portia,” does Miles truly acknowledge his audience, walking over to the lip of the stage and delivering his meatiest solos of the show. They’ve all risen from their seats by then, and although he hasn’t uttered a word to them all night, and would never acknowledge the adoration verbally, it’s not hard to see that, under his shades, Davis is basking.