MILES DAVIS — Big Fun (review)

MILES DAVIS — Big Fun album cover Album · 1974 · Fusion Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
'Big Fun' is one of the best psychedelic records ever recorded in any genre, and as far as production goes, probably Miles' most creative album, and it is topped only by his 'Get Up With It' album when it comes to creative conceptions. The music on here is a blend of psychedelic fusion, rhythms from Africa, Brazil and India and spaced out ambiance all treated to classic early 70s psychedelic production including sitars, tambouras, tape-loop echoes and early analog synthesizers. A wide variety of ensembles appear on these cuts that were recorded between 69 and 72, but the different tracks all hang together as a congruous whole due to the similar production that each song receives. On the original double LP version, one song takes up each of the four sides. Side one consists of the best cut on the album, 'Great Expectations', a three part sound suite that is one of Miles' most original compositional structures. The song opens with a subtle psychedelic groove that is driven by McLaughlin's echo wah-wah guitar plus tambora and woodblocks. Over this groove Miles and Bennie Maupin play a mournful, almost Gregorian melody till they purposefully hit a sour note and the groove dies only to start up again and Miles and Bennie come back with the same tune, the same sour note and so on, repeating this sequence of events till the built up tension is almost palapable. This sort of almost frustrating tension and release was becoming a big part of Miles' 70s compositional technique. The second part of this song is a beautiful slow melody that sounds like a morning prayer from some unknown culture. Miles' breathtaking patience in delivering each note is backed by an ambient orchestra of shining electric pianos and buzzing tambouras. Finally we get to the third part, an uplifting but mellow Afro-Brazilian groove that is a positive affirmation after all the dark mystery of the first two sections.

Side two is made up of 'Ife', a more typical Davis type jam that has Michael Henderson repeating a stop- start bass line similar to a lot of the odd grooves on 'On the Corner'. Fortunately this repeating bass line is very infectious so the song does not get boring as Davis and his band go through a fast version of the line, followed by a much slower version after an ambient break. During the slow part all the psychedelic ambience builds to the point of almost totally burying the bass and drums.

'Go Ahead John' takes up side three and shows the band back on a more experimental tip. This side opens with DeJohnette playing a strange start-stop abstract funk beat in both the left and right channels. It sounds like the producer took two takes of the same track and then staggered them so that the drum phrases constantly overlap. I'm not sure if that is what is happening here, but that's what it sounds like. The overall effect of this drum beat is fascinating. After Miles plays a decent solo McLaughlin comes in with a double-tracked ultra distorted guitar solo that shows a side of McLaughlin that we don't hear often anymore. This is the totally rockin McLaughlin who plays long fuzzed out note bends and sounds like he is having a blast doing it. While McLaughlin's two guitars battle it out, the producers cut the sound of each guitar track off and on producing the effect of a speaker cutting out. It is a weird effect that had many people checking their speaker connections back in the early 70s. After a brief sax solo everything stops and Miles comes in with a doubled tracked ambient trumpet melody that eventually morphs into an avant-garde dissonant spaced out blues based jam. Eventually the opening drum parts return and this side has become a complete sound cycle.

The album closes with 'Lonely Fire', another one of Miles' unique and almost ancient sounding melodies that is played with only ambient backing for a long time before finally settling into a relaxed medium groove. This melody is nice, but after so many repetitions it finally gets a little old after awhile. This side isn't bad, just not as good as the other three.

This album was made when Miles was trying to play music that moved beyond the confines of either fusion or jazz or any combination of the two. His compositional experiments along these lines would finally hit their apex on 'Get Up With It'. If there is any drawback to 'Big Fun' it is the fact that this is very 70s music that came out when people tended to listen to music in a more meditative state. A lot of the music on here develops at a slow and purposeful pace that may be at odds with the constant distractions of today's world.
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