Miles Davis’ Rubberband album springs back to life and Getintohis’ Jelly Roll Parker salutes the rebirth of a lost treasure.
It’s always good when you pre-order something online then forget you did so.
When it arrives there’s the puzzlement then the guess as to what fits the shape of the box. Then you open the first box and realise that there’s a second box inside nearer to the shape of the actual purchase. You then go through the same surge of emotion (a bit exaggerated that) of the guys who saw the hatch in the Trojan Horse opening.
But it’s delight, not dread.
A “new” Miles Davis record. The waiting is over! This record is seriously cool. It has moments that are simply gorgeous and, although it was recorded over thirty years ago, it has not suffered through time.
Out of the box, it’s a good first impression.
A satisfyingly thick sleeve (we are talking vinyl here – a real artefact) with two discs inside. The front image is a painting by Miles Davis – very “painterly” and a classic bit of 20th century abstraction…… or album art from the Madchester period.
Inside the main sleeve are two sleeves containing the heavyweight vinyl discs. Both sleeves have the contact prints on one side from a photoshoot of Miles, looking dapper in full 80s clothing rig with accessories. No smiles, this is a serious guy.
The rear of the main sleeve has extensive notes and the inner sleeves have track-level production information. That’s a great reason to buy records in the 12” format. You can actually read the text.
On dropping the stylus onto Side A, you get the immediate impression of Miles Davis, He opens Rubberband Of Life with the words “Rubberband Rubberband”. It’s soul/jazz, there’s muted trumpet – with a set of seriously brilliant musicians.
Miles Davis’ playing is like his painting, abstract splashes and lines, overlaying colours, on a canvas that’s partially showing through. The tracks were recorded between October 1985 and January 1986, when he was moving from one label to another. It’s a document of his mission of always looking forward.
Reading the sleeve notes you see that most of the tunes are credited to a number of writers – this is a collaboration; the best way to move a genre forward. Vocals are present on Rubberband Of Life by Ledisi, Paradise by Medina Johnson, So Emotional by Lalah Hathaway and I Love What We Make Together by Randy Hall.
Second track on Side A, This Is It, is a lavish rock guitar/trumpet/synth freak-out with big 80s domineering percussion, keyboard stabs and lush sax. The backing track could be a Stock Aitken and Waterman production or M/A/R/R/S.
“If you don’t mind we’d like to play something for you”, Miles introduces track three, Side A. Paradise has a big Latin/Caribbean rhythm and beautiful soulful layered vocals from Medina Johnson.
Lalah Hathaway kicks in Side B with So Emotional. Synth strings and electro beat. At this point you might pinch yourself and remember this is a Miles Davis project. The man was clearly experimenting, working with new, funky, commercial musicians but bringing his wealth of experience and ears to play.
Give it up, track two, Side B, is all slap bass, squeaky synths and big horn lines. Bubbling to the top are Davis’ trumpet lines. Pure class. This track is well danceable and it’s going to get you wiggling your bits without doubt. The playing is exceptional with a memorable flute vs trumpet thang going on in the midpoint followed by an epic synth-bass run!
The final track of side B, Maze is up there for Billy Cobham fans – proper jazz fusion. Solid drums, scrap-yard percussion and wibbly-wobbly horns thrown into a pot of modulated synths.
That’s only half-way, and the first disc has been played three times in an attempt of this writer’s brain to catch up with what’s being delivered here.
A quick scan of the sleeve notes reminds us that these tapes were put on the shelf and forgotten about. Some of the track and ideas appeared live or re-purposed on other albums. The moral here is, NEVER EMPTY YOUR TRASH!
Reflecting on the production, a personal view is that the mix is very full but a bit toppy – higher frequencies rip out a bit. Similar to Songs to Remember by Scritti Politti – another pioneering spirit trying to fuse styles and make a new popular music, with social messaging and accessible aesthetics.
Carnival Time is a big synthy stab-fest. Again, Davis’ trumpet floats to the top and interplays with the keyboard melodies. It’s got that drum-programme precision but is humanised by Miles.
I Love What We Make Together should have been the title of the album in my opinion. It sums up the spirit.
Randy Hall delivers a very Luther Vandross vocal performance with scat and human beat boxing in the intro. There’s also some George Benson-style guitar vocal doubling as well. Dance to this with your jacket sleeves rolled up, big baggy pleats, smart shoes, hair oiled up and a big smile. Warm down with some Tia Maria (on ice) and a generous handful of prawn cocktail Skips.
A farewell to Side C is heralded by See I See. A spacious landscape piece constructed on sparse, bass slaps and horn-bends with a shuffle rhythm. It’s closer to some of the more avant-garde work created by Miles Davis and has a lovely breakdown in the middle. It could be a jam, one worth keeping. The beat is infectious as it fades to the run-out grooves.
The final side and remaining two tracks bring more surprises. Echoes In Time / The Wrinkle is the opener. The title could be a Dr Who story, and maybe it is.
Davis is a time traveller, but only forwards. Initially this tune has a precise horn voice, big room echo and modulated synth chords. Then someone says “I bet you can’t say this?” and Davis replies “My thing”. It morphs into a funky up-tempo thing with synth and drums locked into the beat, bass and trumpet sparring. It’s a long track.
Rubberband closes off four sides of genius. The 80s staple of upfront drum machine (oh yes, there are hand claps) and synth bass dominate the tune’s framework under the trumpet. This is a man moving jazz to somewhere new. An innovator – he changed jazz multiple times in his life.
Considering the technical difficulties faced over a period of 3 years with decaying, stretchy magnetic tape more than 30 years old, this album has been finished and presented superbly.
Well worth multiple listens, it documents a musical genius in a transition period. That said, it is accessible, danceable, challenging, clever, melodic, rhythmic and enjoyable.