1986-1991: The Warner Years

Miles Davis

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1986-1991: The Warner Years Review

by Thom Jurek

Assembling a representative package of Miles Davis' Warner Bros. material from the final six years of his life was never going to be an easy job. For starters, the critical reception individual releases got ran from enthusiastic to nearly hostile. Usually, however, that stood in sharp contrast to the way some of the individual recordings sold. Warner Bros. Europe attempts a historical overview, albeit very sloppily. This tri-fold five-disc box set has some serious design flaws. For starters, the final disc is tucked in the same fold as the booklet, in a paper sleeve! The small size of the various typefaces in the booklet is a real drag. First, Ashley Khan's fine liner essay is in five-point type, and that's bad enough, but the individual album session credits are in two-point typeface, making them all but impossible to read. The way the music is laid out on the set is problematic as well. The positives are that it's all nicely remastered and includes representative slices of the entire period Davis was with Warner. The albums Tutu, Amandla, Live Around the World, Miles & Quincy Live at Montreux, and Doo-Bop are each here in their entirety, as are excerpts from the soundtracks to Siesta and Dingo. The latter is orchestrated by Davis and Michel LeGrand; the album was only issued in Europe and Japan. Siesta (which featured Davis in his only major film role) and its soundtrack were slammed by critics and failed to connect with the buying public. Problems arise when considering individual albums: with the exceptions of Tutu and Doo-Bop, each is split onto different discs. For instance, Amandla's first two tracks are the final pair on disc one. Miles & Quincy: Live at Montreux is split halfway over two discs. Live Around the World was a document of a tour produced to sound like the flow of one concert; splitting it is jarring. Disc five features two previously unreleased Davis tracks, "Maze" and "See I See," as well as European-only cuts "Rubber Band" and "Digg That." The remainder comprises Davis' various guest spots on recordings by Chaka Khan, Shirley Horn, Kenny Garrett, Zucchero, Scritti Politti, and a cut from the Hot Spot soundtrack with John Lee Hooker. The main attraction of the music contained here, is that most of it does portray Davis as creative until the end. His embrace of the contemporary jazz of the '80s and '90s also embraced funk, soul, and hip-hop and showcases inspired playing by some of smooth jazz's brightest lights including Jason Miles, Marcus Miller, Rick Margitza, and Adam Holzman; also here is the work of talents who stand outside that genre: Marilyn Mazur, Joey De Francesco, and John Scofield, to name a few. Ultimately, it's too bad that Warner Europe couldn't have extended this set to include one more disc and chosen another design. If it had done so, 1986-1991: The Warner Years would have been an important historical document, rather than a mere retrospective package.

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