MILES DAVIS — Dark Magus: Live at Carnegie Hall (review)

MILES DAVIS — Dark Magus: Live at Carnegie Hall album cover Live album · 1977 · Fusion Buy this album from MMA partners
4.5/5 ·
js
The first time I heard this album I was really surprised when I heard drummer Al Foster break into a hardcore proto-thrash beat, is this the Miles Davis punk rock album? Maybe so, at least this is the album where Miles writes out his old jazz credentials with a razor blade onto a jagged piece of metal, crumples it up and stuffs it down the throat of every critic who tried to tell him who he is and what kind of music he should play. If the jazz establishment thought Bitches Brew was tough, nothing could prepare them for this sonic onslaught. The best way to describe this album is equal parts Iggy Pop, Sun Ra, John Zorn, Stockhausen, MC5, Hendrix, Velvet Underground with John Cale and live King Crimson improvs.

I have always thought that Miles was heavily influenced by the early 70s Detroit rock scene during this phase of his career. The Detroit scene was particularly rough, as well as creative and featured bands like Iggy Pop and the Stooges, The MC5 and Funkadelic, long before Funkadelic gave up their psychedelic hard-rock roots to become a funk/dance band. These bands mixed hard proto-punk beats with bluesy funk and avant-garde noise and were light years ahead of many other American rock bands as far as the future of rock was concerned.

Creative noisy hard rock is hardly the only influence on here. Dark Magus is similar to other 70s recordings by Miles in that he often breaks the beat down into free sections that are sometimes loud and busy, and other times quiet and ominous. These sections always show the usual Stockhausen and Sun Ra influences, but the difference on this record is that Miles has a bigger band and the sound collages are more dense and interesting. Some of the best moments happen when Mtume holds a cheap 70s drum machine up to the microphone and creates humanly impossible dense layers of rhythms while the other band members add electronic sounds and incidental percussion. There are some saxophone led hard funk-rock jams occaisonally, but these sections sound more like Crimson's Earthbound album or Band of Gypsys than 70s party music.

The star of this show is the incendiary avant-psychedelic guitar shaman Pete Cosey. Robert Fripp has referred to Cosey's guitar playing as 'wall paper shredding' and probably Fripp, and/or McLaughlin are the only guitarists I can think of that could possibly match this man's sonic outbursts. This isn't my personal favorite Miles album, but this is probably his best when it comes to sheer hardcore rock onslaught.
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