Miles DavisOn The Corner
Released 1972 on Columbia
Reviewed by dave clarkson, 19/01/2005ce
New York Girl
Thinkin' One Thing And Doin' Another
Vote For Miles
One And One
Mr. Freedom X
Recorded: Columbia Studios, New York City, June/ July 1972.
Produced by Teo Macero.
Frantically kick-starting another period in the forever changing Davis musical psyche and blowing the webs away from several years of cosmic ambience, ‘On the Corner’ served up a heat hazed, down and dirty stew of funk and avant-garde in a glorious cacophonous soul sauce. Simply sizzling in the heat and humidity of the NYC studio it was recorded in, the album is a total masterpiece from beginning to end.
Featuring an all star line up of some of the best jazz musicians this side of Acker Bilk, the music featured on ‘On the Corner’ is executed with attitude, ferocity and with a feeling that this may be the last time they play. The diverse range of musicians gel more than a thick blancmange and the band is as taut and tight as a crabs’ arse. The music contained on this release is three dimensional, nasty and demonic…. Miles runs the voodoo down, down, downtown.
‘On the Corner’ features a wealth of instrumentation, both rich and varied. The percussion and drumming on this recording has obviously been influenced by european avant-garde music such as Stockhausen due to its uniformity and intensity and sounds very much like the rhythm track tape has been cut and looped throughout much of the session to give an almost organic drum machine feeling – no doubt Teo Macero had a field day here. In fact, the master tape sounds like it was cut and pasted in sections – especially with the feeling of being thrown in at the deep end on the first track. (Also, interesting in this direction is that percussionist and later member of Davis’s group, Mtume, is credited on the proceeding live gigs with drum machine). The bass groove from Michael Henderson often sounds looped throughout the record as well. Keyboards featured on the album are played layering upon each other textures of warmth with the music. The reeds section of the band is kept fairly taut and frantic throughout the sessions and the eastern instruments sprinkle the magic spice upon the whole – giving it a far out vibe but never cosmic. The overall sound is evocative of the hustle, bustle and humidity of NYC in unbearable heat.
The most practical way to review this album is to split the review into the three recording sessions which make up the final release – each session featuring slight musician line-up differences:
Session 1: ‘On The Corner’ / ‘New York Girl’ / ‘Thinkin' One Thing And Doin' Another’ / ‘Vote For Miles’. Recorded Columbia studios, New York City : June 1, 1972.. Line-up: Davis (tp) Dave Liebman (ss) Harold Williams (org, syn) Chick Corea (el-p) Herbie Hancock (el-p, syn) Collin Walcott (el-sitar) John McLaughlin (el-g) Michael Henderson (el-b) Jack DeJohnette, Al Foster, Billy Hart (d, per) Badal Roy (tabla).
Never before, or not since, has a musician mixed funk-rock and jazz like Miles does on the opening ‘On The Corner’, which is actually the first four tracks (‘On The Corner’ / ‘New York Girl’ / ‘Thinkin' One Thing And Doin' Another’ / ‘Vote For Miles’) welded together by the rhythmic genius of Jack DeJohnette. A little bit of Sly and a lot of James B are thrown in the melting pot together with echoes of Hendrix and a smattering of Stockhausen for good measure. John McLaughlin plays mean guitar licks and an even meaner guitar solo further on into the piece and Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock offer some great keyboard passages…Nice! Miles’ trumpet playing is incredible on this track, as he spits out piercing notes processed through wah wah as if his life depends on it. This four part epic finally ends in an Indian style with a sitar and a bongo menace fadeout.
Session 2: ‘One and One’ / ‘Helen Butte’ / ‘Mr. Freedom X’. Recorded Columbia Studios, NYC, June 6, 1972. Line-up: Davis (tp) Carlos Garnett (ts) Harold Williams (org, syn) Chick Corea (el-p) Herbie Hancock (el-p, syn) Collin Walcott (el-sitar) David Creamer (el-g) Michael Henderson (el-b) Jack DeJohnette, Al Foster, Billy Hart (d) Badal Roy (tabla).
'One and One' is similar to the previous piece but there is more interaction between the band members. There's a great clarinet solo by Bennie Maupin and some nice playing from the bandleader.
Lasting over 23 (count ‘em!) minutes, 'Helen Butte’/ Mr. Freedom X' is another welded together track and is the longest piece on the album. ‘Helen Butte’ is similar to 'Black Satin,' in rhythmical terms albeit more arresting but the rest of the music is more layered with keyboards and exotic instrumentation. Herbie Hancock is the more apparent instrumentalist on this track with his beautiful Fender Rhodes playing and the piece is nicely capped off with some sweet trumpet phrasing from Miles. ‘Mr Freedom X’ changes the mood somewhat to a darker space before the percussion section thrust themselves forward in the mix and the keyboardists (Hancock and Chick Corea) create the right atmosphere to end the piece.
Session 3: ‘Black Satin’. Recorded Columbia Studios, NYC, July 7, 1972. Additional musicians: Carlos Garnett (ss); Bennie Maupin (bcl) Khalil Balakrishna (el-sitar).
The Eastern sound of the band open ‘Black Satin’ featuring sitar and tabla. This doesn’t last long as DeJohnette quickly establishes a wicked funk before Miles enters the show soon after with his signature style. The track propels itself forward until it eventually closes with the same sitar licks that started the piece. ‘Black Satin’ also features some great overdubbed handclaps and an incredibly catchy trumpet riff. If this track was played on national radio, 24-7, it would probably have bricklayers and office workers the length and breadth of the country whistling the signature tune.
‘On the Corner’ is a motherfunking masterpiece. This unique and innovative recording put the cat amongst the pigeons as far as the jazz elite and critics of the day were concerned. Miles was accused of cheapening the genre and was called the jazz anti-christ in many quarters (and quartets no doubt). This is the album that the jazz purists hated and in doing so, encouraged a new avenue of exploration for Miles. A less focused live album featuring many of the same musicians was released soon after - ‘Miles In Concert’ - (Live at the Philharmonic, NYC, September 1972).
‘On the Corner’ is the sound of a multi dimensionally talented band stood at the crossroads of four musical genres and exploring the next road to venture down. It’s simply awesome in its scope and delivery.