MILES DAVIS — A Tribute to Jack Johnson

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MILES DAVIS - A Tribute to Jack Johnson cover
4.06 | 51 ratings | 3 reviews
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Album · 1971

Filed under Fusion


A Right Off 26:54
B Yesternow 25:36

Total Time: 52:30


The first track and about half of the second track were recorded on 7 April 1970 by this sextet:
Miles Davis - Trumpet
Steve Grossman - Soprano saxophone
John McLaughlin - Electric guitar
Herbie Hancock - Organ
Michael Henderson - Electric bass
Billy Cobham - drums

The "Willie Nelson" section of the second track (starting at about 13:55) was recorded on 18 February 1970 by a different and uncredited lineup:
Miles Davis - Trumpet
Bennie Maupin - Bass clarinet
John McLaughlin - Electric guitar
Sonny Sharrock - Electric guitar
Chick Corea - Electric piano
Dave Holland - Electric bass
Jack DeJohnette - drums

About this release

Columbia – KC 30455

Rec. February 18, 1970; April 7, 1970

Thanks to Abraxas, snobb for the updates


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Specialists/collaborators reviews

'A Tribute to Jack Johnson' is a fairly uninspiring affair in some ways, and while it does feature some pretty aggressive and fluid soloing from Miles (and many interesting moments from McLaughlin) it's somehow unsatisfying overall and I've been struggling to articulate why I feel that way for years now.

I don't think I can do so fully now either. But let me try at least. In a way you have two styles of music in opposition on 'Tribute', not in terms of sound, but 'approach' perhaps. Sometimes such opposition is effective and it's where the best innovation happens. Sometimes not. The exploratory feel of these pieces sounds almost directionless, and without the subtle shifts and dynamics required for the best jazz-rock fusion, in 'Right Now' especially, it sounds almost like everyone just takes their solos while poor old Billy rides the same beat for half and hour.

I do exaggerate of course, but the punch, the urgency, the bold moves of the best Rock don't show up here. The subtlest moments of Jazz do not appear here either (though everyone is still clearly listening to each other quite closely.) Instead, the album falls somewhere left of both extremes - uniquely Davis but simply not as effective as some of his other albums. In 'Right Now' for instance, sometimes Herbie's distorted organ is in the spirit of the session but often it is plain jarring. At the end it becomes more conventional and the musicians almost come together in a rock band manner.

'Yesternow' is more thoughtful but it's long introductory passage that leads into a spliced section from 'In a Silent Way' is not indicative of a satisfying conclusion. Essentially the song builds up and leads nowhere, though the outro, which glances back toward 'Sketches of Spain' is a brief moment of variety. The closest comparison to the rest of Miles Davis' work might be 'In a Silent' way - yet this album doesn't have the same dynamics. Rather than a clever use of a build and release of tension, 'Right Now' chugs on endlessly (aside from brief respites where Miles's trumpet is drenched in reverb, especially before Grossman comes in for a great solo) and 'Yesternow' leaves the listener no-where by its end.

While this is not an album that represents a failure of performance, it is more a misstep in arrangement and delivery. Fusion was young here and few people were looking as far forward as Miles, it's just that the two forces, Rock and Jazz, didn't mesh so well on 'Tribute.' That doesn't take away from Miles' attempt to push boundaries, which he was a master at, but for me it's only two stars, though for the right fan, I could see them enjoying it a lot more than I do.

Members reviews

siLLy puPPy
I had no idea what to expect with this one. To me Jack Johnson is a guitarist / singer / songwriter who plays poppy folk but he wasn't even born yet when this one came out. Having no interest in boxing I was clueless that this was in fact a soundtrack that was created to accompany a documentary about the boxer Robert Christgau who later took on the name Jack Johnson. I also thought it was strange that a jazz musician would compose a tribute to a boxer. Well it turns out that Davis was asked to do this and because he related to the life story of Johnson he decided to take on the project.

After I popped this in for the first time I was perplexed a second time. This starts out sounding like a rock album. No jazz at all. I had to check the CD to make sure it was the right one. Yep. Sure was. OK. Play on I did. It turns out that much of this 2 track album was improvised totally by accident. That bluesy guitar we hear on the opening track “Right Off” was basically John McLaughlin improvising a B flat chord on his guitar while waiting for DAVIS to show up. Herbie Hancock who just happened to be in the building was brought in on the spot and added his keyboards. One thing led to another and a side long track was born. The second track “Yesternow” is one very long spaced out and repetitive number. Taking up half of the album this is long and lends to a hypnotizing state that for me is better served as background music than full-on attention mode as it is a slow subtly changing variation on a B-flat chord finally changing to a C minor half way through.

This album represents the total cross-pollination of the music of the era. No longer was progressive music just rock borrowing from classical and jazz, but now the other way around and although Davis started this on IN A SILENT WAY, he was a master of changing things up on every album and this album only takes that strategy further. In fact his fusion shows an appreciation for Sly And The Family Stone in “Right Off' where it contains a riff from “Sing A Simple Song” and on “Yesternow” the main bassline is a version of “Say It Loud – I'm Black And I'm Proud” by James Brown. Although I can't say this is my favorite MILES DAVIS album, I sure think it's a very good one despite it sounding a tad repetitive on the second track but it is perhaps the most rockin' of his entire career.
Sean Trane
After the astounding success of Bitches Brew, Davis took another risk, by presenting an album that was the soundtrack of a documentary of Jack Johnson, one of the first Afro-American to win the boxing crown (Boxing was one of Miles’ fascinations) and the way some racist made him pay for it. Although the front artwork of this album shows Miles into one of his classic “pose” on stage, I always wondered why the back cover never made the front, because it is much more “à propos” of the music and it’s supposed subject.. Compared with the previous BB album, Miles’ group has dwindled a bit, keeping Grossman, McL Cobham, , Grossman and Hancock (although he had his own formation called Mwandishi by now) and newcomer Henderson on bass.

Just two tracks, but this time (clocking at over 50 minutes), there is no doubt about it, Miles chose rock instead of jazz or that uncomfortable condition between the two. Originally intended with Buddy Miles (of Hendrix’s band) on drums, Cobham shines as does McL (the two will leave Miles to found Mahavishnu Orchestra) with some of most incendiary riffs ever played. With Hancock’s rather discreet tenure of the keys, Steve Grossman’s sax gives a good response to miles’ trumpet throughout the album, but outside Miles, this John’s album as well. The end of Right Off is a smoking moment that can only convince some that heavy metal was in Miles’ reach had he chosen to. Having never seen the documentary film, I suppose I lose a lot of the pertinence of the music in the second track Yesteryear, where there are obvious moments where the images dictate the music and not the other way.

The remastered version brings nothing new in terms of bonus track, but provide a few interesting pictures of Miles in the ring, and the usual excellent light-shedding liner notes. Just as essential as BB, it’s not perfect either, as you can imagine there are some lengths here and there.

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