Miles Davis at the Jazz Jamboree 1983, Warsaw, Poland

Sunday, October 23, 10:10 p.m.
Review by Tomasz Szachowski

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Miles, limping slightly, in dark shades, black hat and trousers, red-fringed leather jacket and high-heeled boots, came on stage. One by one, the musicians took their positions on stage: on the left, Robert Irving (Korg Polysix) and Bill Evans (ts, ss, fl); in the background, Darryl Jones (el-b) and Al Foster (dr); in the middle in front of the drums, Miles Davis (tp, Oberheim OBX-2, Yamaha GS-2); and to the right, John Scofield (el-g) and Mino Cinelu (perc).

A series of chords and a brief trumpet solo ad libitum preceded Davis' theme Speak from "Star People" -- a firm rock beat, series of unexpected clusters by Miles, counterpointing, anticipating and continuing the narration of the soloists. Next, almost sounding like a continuation of Speak, came Scofield's That's Right, followed by a change of tempo, dynamics and mood in Miles Blues.

Miles began slowly -- the sound of his trumpet full, unusually strong, saturated -- as the bass and the other instruments joined him. The classic blues phrasing was nonetheless full of unexpected harmonies and solo counterpoints by the guitar, trumpet and saxophone. The leader provided some superb moments: the crisp ending of a blues phrase, an unexpected new thought or motif, a pause, acceleration, slowing down. Robert Irving developed Miles' thoughts on keyboard whenever the leader concentrated on the trumpet, though very often Miles played both the trumpet and Oberheim simultaneously. There were many polytonal, polyfunctional moments. Davis' sharply dissonant, ambigious clusters changed the context of the blues phrase, at times extending or prolonging it, evolving into a new idea, only to return in a while to the tonic, subdominant, dominant chord. Scofield soloed "around" the blues, at times playing in the very center of the phrase and harmony, sometimes venturing beyond into the territory of free tonality. The regular, characteristic element was short riffs, marking out the rhythmic development, underscoring the timing and delineating clear points of the form.

After the blues came Scofield's What It Is?, featuring for the first time an extended solo by Evans on soprano -- calm, again bordering on blues phrasing, resembling Wayne Shorter in the sound and phrasing. Only during the first ten minutes or so of the concert could one notice clearly the beginning and end of the pieces. Afterwards, the music became a continuum of thoughts, improvisations, lulls with only a ne3w thematic motif (usually played in unison) to announce a new piece: It Gets Better (familiar from "Star People"), Davis' That's What Happened, Scofield's Air Pakistan, Irving's Code M.D., then two as yet untitled pieces (to be included on Miles' upcoming album), and finally the identifiable theme of Jean Pierre (from "We Want Miles") brought the main part of the concert to a close.

The unbelievable applause led to an encore -- Davis' Open. An even bigger ovation brought the musicians back on stage for a reprise of Scofield's That's Right. A standing ovation and several thousand throats roaring "We Want Miles! We Want Miles!" The musicians appeared for a third time, binding the whole performance together by repeating the opening theme Speak. Miles seemed to be pleased, lifting his trumpet in the air several times and, incredibly, tipping his hat for a second in a gesture of gratitude before disappearing with the other musicians.

Both the selection of the particular pieces as well as the means of connecting them (usually attacca) made the concert by the Miles Davis Group a cohesive whole, almost a loose suite consisting of pieces-themes. Perhaps it could be regarded as one composition which is developed on the principle of an open form where the musicians can intervene at almost any point. This "loosening up" of the musical narration rooted in free jazz, is a continuation of Davis' approach in the '70s before his long retirement. It requires a certain discipline imposed both by the strictly arranged parts (themes in precise voicings, riffs, ending formulas) and the control of the leader, who on stage takes care of even the minutest details.

The compositions (or compositional motifs), even though written by three different people (Davis, Scofield, Irving), have similar features: a narrow ambitus (at times no wider than a third or fourth), strong chromaticism, seemingly asymmetrical phrases (no longer than several bars), unison execution in various combinations (ss, ts-tp-g). The theme is rarely executed by the keyboards, which mainly play a harmonic, sonoristic role. One of Miles' favorite devices is a chromatically descending sequence of densely saturated, tonally ambigious clusters, which melt into the rhythmic layer, sometimes at the least expected moment (rarely on the phrase's "strong" beat), serving as a counterpoint or to stress the rhythm.

In light of the above observations, one gets the impression that Miles' current concept draws on certain techniques of Gil Evans (for example from the album "There Comes A Time"). On the one hand, there is that maximum flexibility and looseness of formal development, allowing an element of chance and improvisation in the broadest sense; on the other hand, there is the arranger's organizing and disciplining role in relation to the score as well as his control during the actual performance. This is a creative development whose esthetic consequences reach far beyond contemporary jazz.

And one more word about the musicians. John Scofield was definitely the No. 2 personality of the concert. Each of his phrases was close to the blues which is essential in Davis' music. Without haste or superfluous virtuosity, Scofield assuredly played his wide-ranging improvisations without ever losing control, even when getting into advanced atonality. There were moments when it seemed he could well take over the directing role in the group. Similarly, Bill Evans was economical and careful in his solos, his soprano, particularly in the high registers, bringing to mind Wayne Shorter (That's What Happened). Mino Cinelu added a separate, superb chapter to the concert. He too played rather economically (which for a percussionist is rather rare), dsiplaying an unbelievable technique, sensitivity and intelligence in a whole gamut of rhythmic and sound licks. Al Foster and Darryl Jones kept to the role of a rhythm section for the whole concert. Foster, as usual, was faultless and precise, but one could have expected much more from a bassist with Miles Davis.

All in all, it was an unforgettable concert, perhaps the greatest single jazz event to take place in Poland. It also was something of a world event, attracting the attention of foreign journalists in Warsaw who took note of the unprecedented three encores and Miles' tip of the hat, even if they referred little to the music itself. It was a magnificent note on which to end the festival and close the first quarter of a century of the Jazz Jamboree. It was a festival above our means, but living up to our ambitions, aspirations and dreams.

maintained by Thomas Hönisch TOP last update: August 11, 2001