When I was in high school and discovering the music of Miles Davis, I had started with a Workin’ & Steamin’ two-pack album (1956) and the 1966 classic Miles Smiles. Then one of the first things I saw was Miles as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live in late 1981 playing Jean Pierre. The next day I bought ‘The Man With The Horn’ and ‘Live Evil’, meaning I had a cross section of his ‘first great quintet’, ‘second great quintet’, 70’s electric period, and his brand new release.
I also quickly discovered that back in 1981 the majority of the mainstream jazz press STILL hated Miles, characterized his 70’s work as ‘selling out’ and blaming him singularly for what they saw as ‘the downfall of jazz’. There was a big stir due to him returning to music rather than dying as many expected – but that was squashed when ‘The Man With the Horn’ failed to show a return to ‘traditional jazz’.To my ears, Live Evil was uncompromising and unapologetic jazz of the highest order, but also borrowed elements of rock and soul and funk. It was also very difficult for rock and pop ears, and was NOT what anyone would call a ‘sell out’. No sane person, anyway.
Similarly, pretty much the entirety of Miles Davis’ 80’s catalog was dismissed by major jazz critics, who would at best forgive it based on his prior contributions to the arts. Of the recordings from that time, the best reviewed were Amandla from 1988 and Tutu from 1986.
But over the last decade something happened – folks woke up to the actual MUSIC that Miles was playing in the 70’s. Columbia (now part of Sony) remastered and re-released everything on great sounding CD’s, including live masterpieces such as ‘Black Beauty’, ‘Live at Philharmonic’ and ‘Dark Magus’.
Since Miles famously left Columbia and joined Warner Brothers after 1985’s ‘You’re Under Arrest’, nothing after 1985 has been given the ‘Sony Legacy re-release to death’ treatment. So Warner Music Group remastering and releasing a 2CD deluxe edition sets up an interesting question: will the music Miles made in the 80’s get a renewed look? Probably not – but at least we can get another look at one of his best releases of the era along with some bonus material!
Summary: While it is easy to describe why older analog recordings would benefit from remastering, the impact on newer digital music isn’t as obvious. Released in 1986, Tutu was still in the ‘early days’ of digital music, where much of what was made was recorded on analog tape, then digitally mastered for pressing on CD.
CD 1 – Tutu
I never had an issue with the sound quality of Tutu, finding it clear and well produced so you could hear the stereo separation and distinctly pick up all of the instrumentation. In fact, even after getting this collection I didn’t appreciate the sound quality at first – it just sounded great. Then I put both my original CD and the new release together in a single playlist with each track in order – WHAT a difference in sound quality! The highs were crisper, the lows were p=more present and punchier, and the entire thing felt more ‘alive’!
In no uncertain terms, just the sound quality of the new collection makes it worth the purchase! (I really hope it comes back as a ‘normal’ US release rather than an import!)
As for the recording itself, there was a great deal of consternation about the amount of synth and drum machine contribution to the music when it was released. Most people would at least admit that Miles hadn’t sounded so good in a decade, but they couldn’t get past the tight song structures and the pop feel. This opinion got worse when the synth music backlash of the ‘grunge’ era in rock was accompanied by a second coming of ‘young lions’ in jazz in the early 90’s who eschewed electronics like Wynton a decade earlier, but didn’t overlook the contribution of pop and rock. So Miles didn’t catch much slack in the 90’s – aside from adulation after his death.
But listening to this music 25 years later, the energy, vitality and quality of the songs and musical contributions of the guests such as George Duke and Michael Urbaniak stand out more clearly than ever. We are in a post-everything era of jazz, where an instrument is an instrument, and whether it is powered by electricity or air doesn’t matter anymore. In that light, the utter brilliance of Tutu stands out more clearly than ever.
Another common criticism back when Tutu was released was that it was described as a Marcus Miller solo project with Miles playing. At the time I never bought that critique, and history has proven me out. Miller made it clear that Miles had no interest in working with finished tracks, so they came into the studio with rough tracks and then worked through the rest.
The results are even more brilliant today than 25 years ago – because now they have stood the test of time.
CD 2 – Live at Nice Jazz Festival 1986
The tale of this Tutu release is really two different stories – the ‘real’ CD and the added concert music. I’ve already described the re-release, but what about CD #2?
The second CD is from Miles 1986 performance at the Nice jazz festival in France in July of that year. That puts the concert after the recording of the album but before its release. The CD contains about an hour of music, but searching out bootleg discography sites says that the show was closer to two hours long. I know I saw Miles during that period and that definitely seems more like the set I recall hearing (but I was also fortunate enough to see him a few other times during the 80’s so it all gets a bit muddled). Jazz festivals rarely allow that long of a set, but having never been to Nice I have no idea – plus, it was Miles.
The sound quality of this recording is excellent, but again we are fortunate that so many shows from many different artists have been faithfully captured over the years. It is one thing in this time of simple recording and cheap & easy storage, but getting something of this clarity and quality in 1986 was more of a challenge.
Unfortunately – and unlike my recent King Crimson discovery – this concert recording doesn’t ‘bring me back’. It is a solid and decent set, with some fine performances, but with so much great live Miles available (like the excellent ‘Complete Live at Montreaux’ recordings from several years back) that show just how tremendous his live performances could be … this one falls a bit flat. Far from the worst, but not the best.
At this point Miles’ band was in transition: the last time I saw him the band included Daryl Jones on bass, guitarist John Scofield, new member Bob Berg on saxophone, drummer Al Foster, keyboard player Robert Irving III and percussionist Mino Cinelu.
That was summer 1984 – by 1986 Berg remained, as did Robert Irving on keyboards. But he was joined by Adam Holzman, and the rest of the group included Felton Crews on Bass, Vince Wilburn on drums, Steve Thornton on percussion, and Robben Ford on guitar. This was definitely a ‘transitional’ unit, and within a year we would see Holzman remain, with Foley and Kenny Garrett as electrifying new additions that made some of his later concerts amongst his best (certainly when I saw them!).
It is perhaps unfair to lay the blame on Robben Ford for the rather average quality of the concert disc, but I’m going to do it anyway. Miles playing is solid enough (though not his best of the period), Berg burns as well as I remember, and the rhythm section is tight. But Miles in the early 80’s structured his sets around considerable guitar work, the set includes plenty of open space, and when compared with previous guitarists John Scofield and Mike Stern … the ‘Yellowjackets’ smooth-jazz pedigree shines through – but not in a good way.
But although the live set is not up to ‘We Want Miles’ or ‘Live Around the World’ or ‘Warsaw’ or ‘Live in Europe’ or ‘Berlin’ or any of the other 80’s live concert CDs I have in my library, it is not a bad set. And when paired with the excellent remastered Tutu, it is a sweet bonus.
In a quarter century, Tutu has gone from being ‘OK for 80’s Miles’ to now easily seen as perhaps his best output of the era (along with Amandla), and one of the best jazz records of the decade. I would even go further – while I’ll not pretend that this stands alongside Bitches Brew, On the Corner, Kind of Blue, Birth of the Cool, or the major works of either ‘great quintet’, it certainly stands up well against some of the ‘second tier’ of recordings such as Sketches of Spain or Quiet Nights. Yeah, it really is that good.
Choice Track (and why): “Tutu” – as I listen to this recording again and again I love the transition from Urbaniak’s solo back to Miles deft trumpet work in ‘Don’t Lose Your Mind’, I adore the George Duke song ‘Backyard Ritual’, and I’ve always dug the reworking of the throwaway pop tune ‘Perfect Way’ … but I always come back to the opening hits of Tutu, and how it transitions to a swinging beat with Miles soaring on top.
You Might Love This If: If you are open to ‘post modern’ jazz that combines jazz, pop, fusion, funk, and rock, with great melodic sensibilities and infectious tunes … grab this one however you can!
Where to Buy: Amazon.com (import) – $23.23
Here is a live performance of Tutu: