From the vault: 1972

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 December, 2007, 12:00am

Miles Davis

On the Corner


Miles Davis had a reputation for being an ornery character. And the Davis that faced the world in the early 1970s was not a happy one, even by his own cranky standards.

What irked the man most was the view that his audience - predominately his black audience - had turned away from jazz. Some critics levelled the same accusation at Davis following the funk and electronica that flowed from the likes of 1969's In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew. But Davis' self-defence was that he was taking his music through its next, natural progression. It was still jazz, just a version no one had heard before. And if fans and critics had begun to question which way Davis was headed, nothing prepared them for On the Corner.

Critics dubbed the album a slap in the face, an angry, arrogant, self-indulgent rebuttal to a world Davis was unhappy with. Fans saw Davis drawing from rock and funk, mixing in his own musical direction, and confusing the hell out of them in the process. It's only with the passage of time that the genius at work was revealed (the album, initially at least, was among Davis' worst sellers). As ever, he was simply ahead of the game.

The version of 'jazz fusion' that explodes from the On the Corner/New York Girl/Thinkin' One Thing and Doin' Another/Vote for Miles medley is as influential as anything Davis devised. By also throwing in electric sitars and tables, Davis was developing his sound into the 'world music' that is commonplace today but unheard of at the time.

What people first found annoying was the fact that the album seems to have no structure, no real 'tracks'. It begins with a bass line and Davis slowly weaves the music around its continuous rhythm. These days, of course, this is simply known as a mix. But back then, no one had a clue what was going on. With the likes of Herbie Hancock on keyboards and John McLaughlin on guitar, it's no wonder Davis was able to shock the world with a sound that was completely new.

And if you're game to follow Davis' journey all the way, a six-disc The Complete On the Corner Sessions boxed set has just been released, which includes In a Silent Way, A Tribute to Jack Johnson and Bitches Brew.