Going on for Miles: Tutu’s not that bad!

It’s very easy to criticise Miles Davis’ latter albums. The 1980’s  and early 90’s were a particularly unkind period for jazz, by and large; it went terribly saccharine, commercial, and the use of electronic drums and electric keyboards meant that much of the jazz from the decade has dated terribly. You’ve only got to listen to Kenny G’s Songbird or some of the Chick Corea Elektric Band, or the most sugary of David Sanborn, to hear it.

Davis’ comeback after five years of silence from 1975-1980 was marked with The Man With The Horn, which heralded the release of a batch of albums replete with keyboards and electronic drums; You’re Under Arrest, Star People, Tutu, Amandla, Aura. There’s the sank-without-trace soundtrack to Siesta, another partnership between Miles and bassist Marcus Miller.

And yet: I can’t help having a secret affection for Tutu. It’s terribly gauche to admit to such a thing amongst circles of jazz purists: mention it at parties and people suddenly see someone across the other side of the room with whom they must urgently speak, or need to refresh their not-that-empty glass from the kitchen all of a sudden.

I admit, none of the albums from The Man With The Horn onwards until the end, stand in comparison to greats from earlier in his career, such as Kind of Blue or In a Silent Way or…well, the list is almost endless. But there’s a cocky swagger to the album, a neat ducking-and-diving apparent in both Davis’ playing as well as in the music itself that sounds as though the music has a smile on its face. It’s winking at you, as if to say “Hey, I’m not as good as Filles de Kilimanjaro or Live at the Blackhawk but hell: I’m here!”

During his career, Miles had forged enough new directions, opened enough doors into new avenues for jazz to pursue, that he can be forgiven if, in the last part of his life, the records lacked the innovative spark of the earlier decades.

Star People and You’re Under Arrest, I can live without. But Tutu: I have a soft spot for it. Now go and refresh your glass.

(Preview tracks via LastFM).

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