Miles Davis: The Bootleg Series Vol. 7 (That’s What Happened)

The heart always beats a little faster when there’s news of a ‘previously unreleased’ Miles project. And if it’s from the 1980s, even better.

The era is still one the least understood/lauded periods of Miles’s work, despite the stellar efforts of George Cole.

It also has not been served well posthumously, particularly by his final label Warners; in recent years. there has been the weirdly undercooked/incomplete Rubberband project, and the appallingly-mastered/incomplete Warners Years box set.

So hopes were high for Sony’s new Bootleg Series 7, which takes in the years 1982 to 1985 and looks at the sessions that made up the (classic) albums Star People, Decoy and You’re Under Arrest. The packaging looks OK:

But what about the music? Before his death, Teo Macero, producer of many epochal Davis albums and also Star People, was very critical of the ‘complete sessions’ boxes that appeared after Miles’s demise. It’s safe to say he would not like this one either.

We essentially get a collection of long studio jams, with occasional familiar sections that Teo edited in to the final masters, plus some alternative versions of some You’re Under Arrest material, some full-length, unedited versions of released tracks and one or two outtakes such as ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’.

The full, unedited versions of ‘Freaky Deaky’ (Darryl Jones’ first recording with Miles) and ‘Katia’ (before Miles took his razor blade to John McLaughlin’s remarkable solo) are well worth hearing. Marcus Miller plays a brilliant bass solo on ‘Remake Of OBX Ballad’. There’s also a really strange duet between legendary jazz trombone player JJ Johnson and Miles on keyboards.

Unlike some of the previous Bootleg Series albums, there’s a lack of interesting studio chatter, which would have enlivened things (though there is the occasional funny Miles interjection). And there are still tracks that refuse to leave the vaults, such as Miles’s version of Nik Kershaw’s ‘Wild Horses’.

Disc one just contains too many formless jams, with Mike Stern, Miles and Bill Evans struggling to put together cogent solos (despite Al Foster’s beautiful drumming), and basically the band is crying out for John Scofield’s arrival in autumn 1982. He brings immediate relief, from both a soloing and compositonal perspective. The live disc is serviceable and quite well recorded, but certainly not one of the best nights from the 1983 tour.

Essentially, we learn three things from the very uneven Bootleg Series 7: Scofield was a vital addition to Miles’s band and prolonged his career, Miller was Miles’s best bass player of the 1980s and Macero did a great job on Star People. But we probably knew all of that already.

So, basically, it’s another opportunity missed. I’ll stick to the original albums, with one or two exceptions. But you gotta check it out if you’re a fan of Miles’s 1980s music. George Cole covers the box in a lot more detail here.

And look out for new documentaries about Darryl Jones and Scofield.

Sinead O’Connor: Nothing Compares

It’s easy to forget just how massive Sinead O’Connor was back in the early 1990s. Her remarkable voice, forthright views, striking looks and of course THAT ‘Nothing Compares To U’ video made her a household name on both sides of the Atlantic.

But there’s also no doubt she was one of the most provocative and outspoken pop stars of her generation, then virtually ‘cancelled’ due to her very public stance on the Catholic Church. ‘Nothing Compares’, a superb new documentary from director Kathryn Ferguson, reinstates O’Connor to her rightful place as important artist and fearless trailblazer.

Ferguson nods to Julien Temple’s classic Sex Pistols doc ‘The Filth & The Fury’ by relying on O’Connor and her friends/collaborators to narrate her story off-screen, while using a huge collection of archive material and home movies – much of it previously unseen – to drive the narrative.

There are troubling details about her childhood shot through with some remarkable footage from the Magdalene Laundries. O’Connor escapes Ireland as soon as possible and we cut to the exciting London live music scene of the mid-to-late 1980s with spellbinding archive of her in her pomp, an artist who absolutely has to make music.

Then there’s a fair deal about her early dealings with the industry, and a lot of it isn’t pretty – to say that the male record-company paymasters do not come out of this period well would be a huge understatement. Interview footage of the time shows her to be softly-spoken, polite and intelligent, even during a Gay Byrne chat show in the presence of her parents.

And then we revisit the 18 months or so when O’Connor was virtually persona non grata in the USA, courtesy of her extraordinary appearances on ‘Saturday Night Live’ and the Bob Dylan tribute concert. If you haven’t seen these moments, I won’t spoil them for you, suffice it to say that if Pussy Riot carried them out today they’d be seen as cutting-edge protest/performance/art.

A minor criticism of ‘Nothing Compares’ would be that it ends very abruptly – we don’t hear much about O’Connor’s life and career post-1995, but no matter: it leaves recent docs about Bowie and Leonard Cohen in the dust. It’s moving, exciting, important and a must-see.

Channel 4 @ 40: Best of the 1980s

This post may not mean much to readers outside the UK but it was a huge deal when Channel 4 – the fourth British terrestrial TV station – launched 40 years ago this week on 2 November 1982.

Excitingly, movingtheriver’s dad had got a gig at the burgeoning channel and we moved back to London in May 1982 after a few years away to prepare for lift-off. The celeb idents started in late summer with advice on how to tune your TV, and suddenly at 4:45pm on 2 November the station was on the air with an edition of ‘Countdown’.

It felt very post-punk in its early days, consistently challenging racism, sexism and homophobia (you might even say it ‘politicised’ a generation – maybe an exaggeration, but I’ve never met a fan of ‘The Comic Strip Presents’ who was also a racist…), giving minorities a voice and bringing mostly excellent British films courtesy of Film (on) Four, brilliant homegrown alternative comedy, US imports and live music into the mix.

Channel 4 also got a reputation early on for lots of swearing and ‘naughty’ foreign films – red rag to a bull for my generation. And, despite the Tories’ current assault on the station, it seems to be going strong – at least ‘Channel 4 News’ and ‘Countdown’ are.

Here’s a personal selection of memorable shows/films from the first eight years of Channel 4, in no particular order. They did the 1980s proud.

20. Meantime

19. Wired

18. When The Wind Blows

17. The Snowman

16. The Tube

15. Cheers

14. P’Tang Yang Kipperbang

13. The Comic Strip Presents

12. The Max Headroom Show

11. The Avengers

10. Scully

9. The Last Resort With Jonathan Ross

8. Robin Williams: Live At The Met

7. Clive Anderson Talks Back

6. Whose Line Is It Anyway

5. The Incredibly Strange Film Show

4. Star Test

3. Mavis On 4

2. Fifteen To One

1. After Dark

David Sylvian/Holger Czukay: Plight & Premonition

As winter ghosts gather and Halloween approaches, Plight & Premonition makes for a great seasonal soundtrack.

David Sylvian reportedly hated the term ‘new age’ and wasn’t even that fond of ‘ambient’, preferring the phrase ‘environmental’ to describe his instrumental work of the ‘80s (he lived in South Kensington, a busy part of West London, and occasionally spoke of making music that would remind him of being in nature).

And what a body of work it is. Plight & Premonition is a great conjuring trick – it’s almost impossible to work out how it was done. Sylvian and Czukay concoct an intoxicating blend of tape loops, Dictaphone, acoustic piano, radio recordings, treated guitar and analogue synths which doesn’t sound remotely like anyone else’s ‘ambient’ music.

Sylvian arrived at Czukay’s massive studio near Cologne – an abandoned cinema – in autumn 1986 to work on the latter’s Rome Remains Rome album. But that work never materialised. Instead, after a dinner out, they returned to the studio and started messing about on Czukay’s many instruments.

Sylvian told writer Richard Cook more about the album’s genesis in ‘The Wire’ magazine:

I dislike studios immensely, but I like Holger’s studio because it’s all one room and it’s geared towards the musician. You never really know when you’re being recorded. There was three nights’ worth of improvising. ‘Plight’ was originally just a ten-minute piece of music which Holger worked on for six months afterwards, adding signals from short-wave radio and stuff, and finally turning it into the piece it is now. ‘Premonition’ is a piece we did at the end of the three days and it’s just as it stood.

The only thing we can be sure of is that ‘Plight’ is – tangentially – in E minor, whereas ‘Premonition’ is in E major. The former is disturbing, the latter uplifting. Apart from that it’s best just to let it wash over you.

The album emerged on Virgin’s burgeoning instrumental imprint Venture Records on 21 March 1988. Superbly, it made an appearance in the UK album chart at #71 and sold well. Sylvian was still quite a draw at the time in the slipstream of Secrets Of The Beehive.

However the current streaming/CD version of Plight & Premonition is an awful remix carried out by Sylvian in 2002 during his Everything And Nothing greatest hits period, when he was reassessing everything he’d done for Virgin (and not liking a lot of what he heard).

He inexplicably removed all reverb (both real – via the studio echo chamber – and digital), leading to a fidgety, unpleasantly dry mix with very little depth or substance. Best to find the original 1988 release if you can, and you’ll also get Yuka Fujii’s delicious cover photo too…

Joni Mitchell: Wild Things Run Fast 40 Years On

joni_mitchell-wild_things_run_fast(4)Joni entered the ’80s in a despondent state: ‘Everyone realised at the brink of the decade that it was going to be a hideous era…’, she reported to Q magazine.

It didn’t help that her beloved ’69 Bluebird had been stolen from outside Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard on New Year’s Eve 1979.

She was also sued by her cleaning lady and then found herself headhunted by old friend David Geffen for his new record label, though their relationship were never easy.

Then there were Thatcher and Reagan and a simmering Cold War. But Joni’s new songs avoided politics completely (she’d make up for that later). Instead, buoyed by her relationship with new bassist Larry Klein and beguiled by The Police and Talking Heads she was hearing on the radio, she produced possibly her most romantic, upbeat album to date, released 40 years ago this month.

But while there are some concessions to hard rock, new-wave and reggae, Wild Thing‘s best tracks are the ones that most closely resemble the shimmering, jazzy, almost psychedelic tracks of the mid-to-late-’70s.

Larry Klein and Joni, 21st November 1982

Larry Klein and Joni on their wedding day, 21 November 1982

It helped that many of her ’70s ‘repertory company’ were still in place at the dawn of the ’80s – singer James Taylor, percussionist Victor Feldman, drummer John Guerin, saxist Wayne Shorter and guitarist Larry Carlton.

Her new recruits were the new generation of hotshot session players: guitarists Mike Landau and Steve Lukather, keyboardists Larry Williams and Russell Ferrante, formidable ex-Zappa drummer Vinnie Colaiuta.

My point of entry for this album was superb lead-off track ‘Chinese Cafe/Unchained Melody’, the first music I’d ever heard by Joni. I was immediately a fan. It’s a moving meditation on love and loss with a haunting piano/bass motif and intricate Guerin drum part.

‘Be Cool’ and ‘Moon At The Window’ are classic Jazzy Joni. On the former, Klein stakes his claim as a worthy successor to Jaco while Shorter offers a witty, beautifully judged commentary on the latter. Klein in general gets a lot of space on the album – as much as Jaco got on Mingus – but he’s a totally different player (and doesn’t play fretless). His contributions make Wild Things one of the great bass records of the 1980s.

Larry Carlton plays a sublime accompaniment in the left channel on the elegant ‘Ladies’ Man’ (featuring more than a hint of Steely Dan’s ‘Third World Man’), while Joni surveys her lover’s ‘cocaine head games’ – one of several drug references on the album.

Some tracks are a curious but engaging mixture of hard rock and fusion – the title track, ‘You’re So Square’ and ‘Solid Love’ feature some dynamic, chops-infused interplay between Colaiuta and Klein, and it’s exciting hearing Joni pushing her vocals, singing with a lot of bite, though she probably should have left reggae well alone.

The closing ‘Love’ – appropriating Corinthians 13 11-13 – encapsulates all that’s good about Wild Things Run Fast: a beautiful vocal, superb and sensitive guitar playing from Steve Lukather and empathetic textures from Shorter and Colaiuta.

TourProgram83RefugeGroup

The 1983 touring band: Vinnie Colaiuta, Mike Landau, Joni, Larry Klein, Russell Ferrante

Joni toured Wild Things extensively with a band consisting of Colaiuta, Landau, Klein and Ferrante, dropping in to London’s Wembley Arena in 1983. Wish I had been there. Thankfully we have YouTube (see below).

The album was a minor hit, reaching #32 in the UK and #25 in the States, and the single ‘You’re So Square’ reached #47 in the US.

One’s appreciation of it probably depends on when you were born. People who adore Blue and For The Roses probably loathe this. But as my first exposure to Joni’s music, I hold it very dear.

Movie Review: David Bowie in ‘Moonage Daydream’ (2022)

The hype for ‘Moonage Daydream’ is presenting it as a very different kind of David Bowie documentary (and music doc in general), and in some ways that’s true – it’s certainly ‘non-linear’ (which creates a few problems, as we’ll see later) and not yet another retelling of the Bowie story replete with talking heads (David alone ‘narrates’ the movie).

It’s undoubtedly best seen in the cinema, with its striking sound collages, surreal jump cuts and sometimes startling imagery taken from many sources, cult movies (including Canadian curio ‘Universe’, apparently also an influence on Kubrick and Lynch) to Hollywood’s golden age.

Director Brett Morgen is best known for his Kurt Cobain and Rolling Stones documentaries (neither of which your correspondent has seen), and apparently he got complete family approval to sift through countless hours of Bowie’s personal archive – though reportedly David was less than convinced by Morgen’s credentials/pitch when they met in 2007.

But Morgen has certainly got hold of some coups: there’s madly exciting, previously unseen DA Pennebaker footage from the Earls Court and Hammersmith Odeon Ziggy gigs in 1973, including Jeff Beck’s guest spot on ‘Jean Genie/Love Me Do’ – what a thrill to see him trading licks with Mick Ronson.

There’s also some terrific David Hemmings-directed 35mm Earls Court footage from 1978, and you’ll be doing well if you don’t get a lump in the throat during ‘Heroes’ (when is the complete footage finally going to get a proper release?). Then there are tantalising glimpses of Bowie’s many paintings and some intriguing footage from his mid-1970s video experiments. Morgen also borrows large sections of Serious Moonlight tour curio ‘Ricochet’ and ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’.

But the film really comes into its own with its sound design. Tony Visconti has donated audio stems from Bowie’s studio masters so there are interesting reversions of material like ‘Ashes To Ashes’, ‘DJ’ and ‘Absolute Beginners’. I almost cheered when Dennis Davis’s ‘Sound And Vision’ groove exploded into action and it’s a delight hearing Rob Sabino’s solo’d piano from ‘Modern Love’.

But there are issues with ‘Moonage Daydream’. The frenetic editing sometimes leads to jarring moments. If you were being kind you’d say it was ‘non-linear’, if you weren’t you might say it was completely random. Again, not a problem in itself, given Bowie’s use of cut-up techniques and mistrust of linear narratives by the mid-1990s.

Then there are the obvious omissions/Morgen’s perceived irrelevances. Tin Machine isn’t mentioned by name, nor are there any images of the band. In fact the period of 1989-2005 is scarcely covered, save for some interesting outtakes from Samuel Bayers’ videos from that time, some footage from Bowie’s 50th birthday concert and a section on his marriage to Iman.

There is a fairly lengthy exploration of his family background, suburban upbringing and half-brother Terry Burns, though very little about his early Mod days and art-school contemporaries. And Bowie purists may be troubled (well, I was!) by the use of the Pet Shop Boys remix of ‘Hallo Spaceboy’ rather than the original to kick off the film.

Of course the question is, if you’re a big Bowie fan – and I presume you are if you’ve read this far – do you need to see ‘Moonage Daydream’? I’d say a qualified ‘yes’… But ultimately it’s still like a very expensive-looking YouTube greatest hits, with many bits of familiar interview footage and a lot of previously seen live stuff. But even that is a thrill to see on the big screen with good sound. Is the film pretentious? Of course, but that was never a criticism for Bowie. He even described his collaborations with Brian Eno as ‘the new school of pretension’…

Further reading: ‘Sight & Sound’ October 2022

What Is The Ultimate 1980s Floorfiller?

Here’s a quandary. If you had to choose one 1980s song to get people on the dancefloor – maybe you’re the last-minute guest DJ at a wedding disco – what would you go for?

The track probably needs a few things going for it:

1. A great intro – a ‘call to arms’.

2. Cross-generational appeal, one for the kiddies and grandparents alike.

3. It has to be a total hit – no cult favourites.

4. Loudness and ‘impact’.

5. It’s probably ‘pop’ and pretty genre-less – no heavy metal or R’n’B.

6. A soundtrack hit might be good – something from a John Hughes joint or ‘Dirty Dancing’?

7. A flavour of the ‘novelty’ hit/one-hit wonder might help.

In his (great) book ‘Nothing Is Real’, David Hepworth comes up with five ultimate floorfiller contenders including two from the 1980s: Brucie’s ‘Dancing In The Dark’ and Madonna’s ‘Open Your Heart’. Both choices strike this correspondent as a little odd. Rather I’d posit the following (feel free to chime in with any omissions):

Michael Jackson: ‘Billie Jean’

Prince: ‘Kiss’

Dexys Midnight Runners: ‘Come On Eileen’

Simple Minds: ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’

Toni Basil: ‘Mickey’

Musical Youth: ‘Pass The Dutchie’

Roxy Music: ‘Same Old Scene’

Cyndi Lauper: ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’

Bill Medley/Jennifer Warnes: ‘(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life’

De La Soul: ‘Say No Go’

Young MC: ‘Know How’

Wham!: ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’

Human League: ‘Don’t You Want Me’

ABC: ‘Poison Arrow’

Madonna: ‘Into The Groove’

But the one 1980s track I’d choose to get people onto the dancefloor is…

David Bowie: ‘Let’s Dance’

I’ve rounded up most of these and some others into a playlist. Happy groovin’.