MILES DAVIS – A Tribute to Jack Johnson (Columbia, 1971)
Bear with me, because as much as I love this record and jazz in general, I know very little (technically) about the music. I just know what sounds good to my ears. As far as jazz albums go, this one will be very palatable to rock fans because of the predominance of the electric guitar, especially on the first side, “Right Off”. John McLaughlin plays plenty of cool riffs and funky licks before Miles kicks in with his one-of-a-kind trumpet. Honestly, by the time you get to the end of the track, you will hardly believe that 27 minutes have gone by. It’s that good. And it grooves, solidly. Being in a room with this guys must have been a mindblowing experience. It truly is an awe-inspiring groove that they lay down.
Side two, “Yesternow”, is a slow paced atmospheric piece, over 25 minutes long. But by the end, it transforms into another one of those surreal grooves. On this one, McLaughlin plays jagged, mournful and distorted bits over a slow groove. It’s not as immediate as “Right Off”, but some of the playing here (by everybody) is incredible. I love McLaughlin’s wah-wah.
That’s Herbie Hancock on organ, and Billy Cobham on drums. Incredible. They are accompanied by Michael Henderson (bass) and Steve Grossman (soprano sax).
As a movie geek, it was a special treat for me to have the late great actor Brock Peters do a cameo at the end, playing legendary boxer Jack Johnson:
“I’m Jack Johnson, heavyweight champion of the world! I’m black! They never let me forget it. I’m black alright, I’ll never let them forget it!”
The album was the soundtrack to a Jack Johnson documentary film directed by William Cayton. I can’t really go into a deeper analysis of the music (sorry) but there’s a decent Wikipedia article that can do it better than me.
This is a great, accessible album and I strongly recommend this 2005 remastered Sony edition.