Live At Montreux:
Highlights 1973 – 1991

Miles Davis

You can never get enough video of Miles Davis and whatever band is backing him. Watching the man stalk the stage, even when he isn’t blowing, is a spectacle to behold. Certainly, there have been bits and pieces over the years. More recently, Sony has stepped up with DVDs accompanying anniversary reissues of Kind Of Blue and Bitches Brew. Now the Montreux vaults have been opened and out comes Live At Montreux: Highlights 1973–1991, a DVD featuring seven appearances at the famed Swiss jazz festival.

The DVD starts off, appropriately enough, with Davis’s first time at Montreux in 1973. What follows is a 27-minute free-form jam extracted from “Ife,” which first popped on the 1972 album, Big Fun, a collection of outtakes mostly from Bitches Brew and On The Corner. Accompanied by a crack six-piece band, Davis sports oversized glasses and jumps from trumpet to keyboards, taking the band through a rollercoaster ride of improvisational funk-soaked jazz. This well may be the best of the lot.

Davis retired from performing for the rest of the decade, and didn’t return to Montreux until 1984. While the same level of intensity is pervasive throughout, the music as a whole is more streamline and manicured — far less aggressive than Davis was in the late 60s and early 70s. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t come out swinging on “Speak: That’s What Happened.” His new band at the time included guitarist John Scofield and bassist Darryl Jones (who’s been with the Rolling Stones since 1993), shifting Davis to more of a jazz fusion approach with a heavy rock undertow. Davis plays less trumpet and spends much of the song holding down one note on a synthesizer — a note the band seems to gravitate around until the master takes up his horn and fills in the gaps.

The band is even leaner upon their 1985 and 1986 return. Davis’s nephew, Vince Wilburn, Jr. turns up on drums and guitarist Robben Ford steps in for Scofield for a slovenly round of “Jean-Pierre.” Davis himself looks like a mad scientist; his hair astray and wild, concoctions abound through a mix of brass, percussion and electronic flourishes. Then Ford comes along and delivers a few crushing blows. As always, the man was still opening the door for great musicians, including saxophonist David Sanborn, bassist Joe McCreary and saxophonist Kenny Garrett.

On 1988’s “Heavy Metal Prelude,” he virtually hands over the spotlight to percussionist Marilyn Mazur before piping in on the accents. “Jo Jo” from 1989 and “Hannibal” from 1990 are comparable in many ways to today’s smooth jazz, although Davis still teases the melody from time to time. Fortunately, Davis was willing to change things up for what became his final stand at Montreux. Through much persuasion from promoter Claude Nobs and producer Quincy Jones, the trumpeter agreed to revisit Sketches Of Spain, the sprawling 1960 orchestral album he composed with Gil Evans. Looking frail, but deep in concentration, Davis plays his parts with precision and care. He died a little over two months later on September 28, 1991. To commemorate his memory, Live At Montreux: Highlights 1973–1991 features a spirited interview with Carlos Santana, who’s been extremely vocal about his love for Miles Davis. One evening with this DVD, and it’s easy to understand why.

~ Shawn Perry

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