Review Summary: Sprawling jams done in true, extended Electric Miles fashion in the least memorable way since Miles In The Sky. At least the rhythm section rules...
In today’s modern world, it’s hard to keep up with the times. With the ever-expanding field of networking and recreational technology, a couple of missed Tweets, a troublesome internet connection or a few days away from your iPhone can render you unaware of what’s going on in your life and the world that encompasses it. The same theory applies to music. Ideas are shared, and influences spread like wildfire. So in 1972, when late and great jazz artist Miles Davis saw his popularity with the black youth diminish and due to the influx of successful rock and funk acts, he did something about. Thus, On The Corner
was born. A self-admitted attempt to reconnect with African-American teens who had turned to funk and rock, On The Corner
is odd, abstract, and inaccessible. Despite being a mixed, failed attempt, it’s an interesting record nonetheless.
On The Corner
, like every one of his releases since Miles In The Sky
, is more fusion Jazz than cool jazz. Instead of the slightly more structured, but still free-flowing, sweeping jazz of Kind of Blue
, we get the mammoth structures of Bitches Brew
, but without the pure innovation and entertainment value of that record. Rather, we get some new features around what is basically a very similar record. Instead of free flowing, jazzy drums, we get hard hitting, repetitious funk drums reminiscent of James Brown, which offer the listener a bit more of a concrete rhythm section to counter-balance the rock bass of the record. As well, we get massive, psychedelic guitar solos, and occasional guitar riffs intertwined between Davis’ trumpeting.
While his band evolves into even more continually jagged, unstructured song masses that make them constantly more ominous and lively, Miles is on nigh pure autopilot here. His trumpet’s hisses and squeals are a bit less notable and his lines are getting less and less memorable. It’s hard to really feel his playing here, even if he’s gotten a lot better. Technically, this is one of Miles’ better efforts. On the title track; he tries to implement Coltrane’s style to his trumpeting, and for about a second, actually sounds good. However, he’s constantly devoted to the rough sound that is evoked on his jazz fusion material, and thus he’s constantly stuck doing squealing that constantly gets less and less recognizable and more schizophrenic sounding than ever.
It’s unfortunate that Miles is stuck on this tip really, because it makes the album’s two shortest songs, “Black Satin” and “One and One”, the best songs on the album. “Black Satin” constantly builds on a catchy eastern melody which Davis constantly improvises upon and starts with a mixture of Indian sitar sliding and bongos meshed with grumbling guitars, and. It’s simple, especially for Miles at this point and age, but it works perfectly. “One and One” is pure funk jazz, with Miles spastic horn lines grooving along funky bass slaps. “One and One” and “Black Satin”, amongst an album full of what would be winners for any other artist, are finally the winners for Miles.
Before and after “Black Satin” and “One and One”, there are the long songs on this record. Instead of grooving and building upon themselves like previous electric Miles era material, it’s just there. Those tracks, instead of managing to use Miles’ interesting sound and general dissonance to create something epic like he has with most big tracks, just result in incessant jamming (and not in the manner on Bitches Brew
, either). For a while, it’s interesting to see where the jammers go, but it never really gets the listener interested other than in the rhythm section, where the drums and bass really provoke jiving and moving. It doesn’t help that this album is pretty inaccessible. With five songs crammed into the title track, sprawling fifty-two minutes crammed into four tracks, and a wide array of influences, this album is complex, and at first, second, and maybe even third listen, doesn’t portray its true value.
As a whole, Miles failed at regaining a rather lost portion of his fanbase, or even selling well for that matter. Critics scorned this album, and it’s been widely forgotten. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad record. The combination of funk, jazz, and rock is interesting, to say the least, and Davis is a trumpeting god. It’s good, and that just goes to show how good Miles is, as this is one of his worst records. But only God knows what atrocity he would have made in an attempt to pry today’s black teens from their Lil Wayne.