Big Fun (Miles Davis album)

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Big Fun
Studio album by Miles Davis
Released April 19, 1974
Recorded November 19, 28, 1969; February 6, 1970; March 3, 1970, and June 12, 1972
Columbia Studios B and E
(New York, NY)
Genre Jazz fusion[1]
Length 98:45
Label Columbia
Producer Teo Macero
Miles Davis chronology
Jazz at the Plaza
(1973)
Big Fun
(1974)
Get Up with It
(1974)

Big Fun is a double album by American jazz recording artist Miles Davis, released April 19, 1974, on Columbia Records. It contains tracks recorded between 1969 and 1972 by Davis. Largely ignored on its original release, it was reissued on August 1, 2000 by Columbia and Legacy Records with additional material, which led to a belated critical reevaluation.

Background and recording[edit]

Big Fun reflects three different phases from Miles Davis's early-seventies "electric" period.

Sides one and four ("Great Expectations/Orange Lady" and "Lonely Fire") were recorded three months after the Bitches Brew sessions and incorporate sitar, tambura, tabla, and other Indian instruments. They also mark the first time since the beginning of Miles Davis's electric period that he played his trumpet with the Harmon mute which had been one of his hallmarks, making it sound much like the sitar. This contributed to creating a very clear and lean sound, highlighting both the high and low registers, as opposed to the busier sound of Bitches Brew which placed more emphasis on the medium and low registers.

"Ife" was recorded after the 1972 On the Corner sessions, and the framework is similar to tracks from that record. It has a drum and electric bass groove (which in fact at one point breaks down due to mistiming) and a plethora of musicians improvising individually and in combinations over variations on the hypnotic bassline.

"Go Ahead John"[edit]

Recording[edit]

The recording has a strong groove and was titled by Davis as an exhortation to his guitar player John McLaughlin.[2]

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Recorded on March 7, 1970,[3] "Go Ahead John" is an outtake from Davis's Jack Johnson sessions.[4] The recording is a riff and groove-based, with a relatively sparser line-up of Steve Grossman on soprano saxophone, Dave Holland on bass, Jack DeJohnette on drums, and John McLaughlin on guitar with wah-wah pedal.[4][5] It was one of the rare occasions in which Davis recorded without a musical keyboard.[3] It was recorded in five sections, ranging from three to 13 minutes, which producer Teo Macero subsequently assembled in post-production four years later for Big Fun.[3] DeJohnette provides a funky, complex groove, Holland plays bass with one constant note repeated, and McLaughlin plays in a staccato style with blues and funk elements.[3] According to one music writer, the track's bass parts has "a trancelike drone that maintains" the predominantly Eastern vibe of the album.[6]

Davis's trumpet and McLaughlin's guitar parts were heavily overdubbed for the recording.[7] The overdubbing effect was created by superimposing part of Davis's trumpet solo onto other parts of it, through something Teo Macero calls a "recording loop". Macero later said of this production technique, "You hear the two parts and it's only two parts, but the two parts become four and they become eight parts. This was done over in the editing room and it just adds something to the music [...] I called [Davis] in and I said, 'Come in, I think we've got something you'll like. We'll try it on and if you like it you've got it.' He came in and flipped out. He said it was one of the greatest things he ever heard".[8] DeJohnette's drums were also manipulated by Macero, who used an automatic switcher to have them rattle back and forth between the left and right speakers on the recording.[3] In his book Running the Voodoo Down: The Electric Music of Miles Davis, Davis-biographer Phil Freedom describes this technique as "100 percent Macero" and writes of its significance to the track as a whole, stating:

This doesn't create the effect of two drummers. It's just disorienting, throwing the ear off balance in a way that forces the listener to pay close attention. The drums cease to perform their traditional function. Jack DeJohnette's beats, funky and propulsive on the session tapes, are so chopped up that their timekeeping utility is virtually nil. Macero has diced the rhythm so adroitly that we are not even permitted to hear an entire drum hit or hi-hat crash. All that remains are clicks and whooshes, barely identifiable as drums and, again, practically useless as rhythmic indicators. Thus, the pace is maintained by Dave Holland's one-note throb and the occasional descending blues progression he plays. The feeling one gets from "Go Ahead John" becomes one of floating in space.[9]

—Phil Freeman

Composition[edit]

Titled as an exhortation by Davis to McLaughlin,[2] "Go Ahead John" features a basic, blues motif, centered around E and B♭ flat, as well as modulations introduced by Davis into the D♭ flat scale.[4] The recording begins with McLaughlin's funky wah-wah lines, backing Grossman's sharp, restrained playing, with Davis's first trumpet solo entering at four minutes with scattered ideas.[3][5] In his book Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis, Jack Chambers writes that the recording's first 11 minutes and its closing four-and-a-half minutes "resemble Willie Nelson [from Jack Johnson] as a head arrangement built on a riff, with the riff sustained this time by McLaughlin's steady wah-wah in the background.[8] Approximately six minutes into it, McLaughlin's guitar solo succeeds Davis's first solo, as the band vamps.[3] Music journalist Todd S. Jenkins writes of this passage in the recording, "Thanks to the then-new wonders of noise gate technology, Jack DeJohnette’s drums and cymbals flit back and forth rapidly from left to right in the mix. With each switch, the guitar’s volume blasts in and out, over and over again, during McLaughlin’s relentlessly acidic solo".[5] Following the passage, an unrelated theme opens with two minutes of a slow blues segment by Davis that is spliced into the recording, accompanied solely by occasional notes from Holland; According to Jack Chambers, Davis's blues solo "becomes a duet with himself by overdubbing, and then builds into a quintet performance lasting ten more minutes".[8] Phil Freeman wrote of this "doubling effect", stating "Miles's two solos fit together perfectly, creating a feel similar to that of New Orleans jazz, with two trumpets weaving intricate, complementary lines around each other".[9]

In Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis, Chambers writes of Davis's segment and the complex production of "Go Ahead John", "In spite of the gimmickry, the blues segment manages to state some old verities in a new context, and state them powerfully. Most jazz listeners can hope that someday Go Ahead John will be unscrambled and re-presented to them as, among other things, an unhurried blues by Davis accompanied only by Holland".[8] Down Beat critic John Ephland interprets the recording to be "Miles' most obvious allusion to the Godfather of Soul, James Brown", adding that "Conjuring up images of Brown's 'I Can't Stand Myself' and 'I Got the Feelin',' from '67 and '68, respectively, 'Go Ahead John' shuffles, swirls, gets down and runs rampant, with some very creative editing, courtesy of producer Teo Macero".[10] Allmusic editor Thom Jurek writes of the recording, "There is no piano. What's most interesting about this date is how it prefigures what would become 'Right Off' from Jack Johnson. It doesn't have the same fire, nor does it manage to sustain itself for the duration, but there are some truly wonderful sections in the piece".[4] In Running the Voodoo Down: The Electric Music of Miles Davis, Phil Freedom calls the recording "one of the best things Miles and Macero created during the 1970s", writing that "It's a singular achievement in production, one that presents Miles in a different light than anything else in his catalog".[3]

Reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 3/5 stars[4]
Alternative Press 4/5 stars[11]
Robert Christgau A–[12]
Down Beat 4/5 stars[10]
Penguin Guide to Jazz 3/4 stars[13]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 3/5 stars[14]

Released on April 19, 1974, by Columbia Records,[15] Big Fun debuted at number 193 on the U.S. Billboard Top LPs chart and sold 50,000 copies in its first week.[16][17] It ultimately reached number 179 on the chart and number six on Billboard's Top Jazz LPs chart.[18] According to Todd S. Jenkins of All About Jazz, "The long, ever-droning, darkly exotic electric music, and in fact the very idea of just four songs taking up four full sides of an album, was not too appealing to critics or the general market at a time when short, sharp disco tunes were beginning to chart like wildfire. So Big Fun received generally weak reviews".[5]

In a positive review, Billboard stated "Much of the existentialism in musical forms that has characterized Miles Davis' recent offerings are embodied in this new album, but Davis has the creativity of mind and expertise of profession to break away from the conventional and still remain an exciting, interesting, innovative and acceptable artist. This album is in that genre".[19] Bob Palmer of Rolling Stone commented that "essentially Big Fun is the most consistently appealing, varied and adventurous Miles Davis album since Live/Evil, commands attention as such, and will doubtless give Davis's many imitators something to think about".[7] In his consumer guide for The Village Voice, critic Robert Christgau gave Big Fun an A– rating,[12] indicating "a very good record. If one of its sides doesn't provide intense and consistent satisfaction, then both include several cuts that do".[20] Christgau noted three of its "side-long 'pieces' [...] wind down prematurely", but wrote that "for the most part this is uncommonly beautiful stuff, and it gets better".[12] He singled out "Lonely Fire" as a highlight, writing that "after meandering at the beginning [it] develops into lyrical mood music reminiscent in spirit and fundamental intent of Sketches of Spain".[12]

Legacy[edit]

In a retrospective review, Allmusic editor Thomas Jurek complimented "some outstanding playing and composing here", but criticized "the numerous lineups and uneven flow of the tracks", writing that "Despite the presence of classic tracks like Joe Zawinul's 'Great Expectations', Big Fun feels like the compendium of sources it is".[4] The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004) wrote that the album "defies easy categorization, although its dark, moody tracks boast a strong undercurrent of Indian classical rhythms in addition to the expected swathes of rock and funk".[14] However, Alternative Press called the album "essential....colorful and exotic" and wrote that it represents "the high water mark of his experiments in the fusion of rock, funk, electronica and jazz".[11] The Penguin Guide to Jazz described it as "an entertaining simulation of a top-drawer R&B band, just about pushed into the jazz zone", with the key elements of Davis's "electronic" sound.[13] Stylus Magazine's Edwin C. Faust commented that "a world without this music would be a considerably emptier place" and cited it as Davis's "greatest achievement" with regard to an album's "overall effect".[6] Faust viewed that critics were "privy to the knowledge of recording dates and band line-ups" in their criticism of the album as "scattered" and "unfocussed", and elaborated on its musical significance to Davis's catalogue, stating:

Despite critics labeling it “scattered” and “unfocused”, Big Fun has a very consistent vibe throughout. In contrast to its title, the album is moody and hauntingly lyrical—not entirely unlike In a Silent Way. Imagine the foreboding nature of Bitches Brew, with the primitive and funky undercurrent of On the Corner, but also with the majestic melodies of In a Silent Way cresting the surface. Plus, Big Fun is tied together by a stronger Eastern vibe than any of Davis’s other albums [...] Big Fun is the work of a true musical craftsman and an even truer artist.[6]

—Edwin C. Faust

Down Beat critic John Ephland commented that "there is indeed a sense of adventure, of taking chances with so much talent, and with such skeletal designs", adding that "Big Fun reinforces the notion that Miles' primary contributions to music have come via orchestrating, organizing, enabling. How this music was put together proves to be as interesting as any solo or ensemble work [...] Incidentally, the digital sound quality is consistently high throughout".[10]

Track listing[edit]

1974 double LP release[edit]

Side one
  1. "Great Expectations" (Davis, Zawinul) – 27:23
    • "Great Expectations" (Davis, Zawinul) – 13:34
    • "Orange Lady" (Zawinul) – 13:49
Side two
  1. "Ife" (Davis) – 21:34
Side three
  1. "Go Ahead John" (Davis) – 28:27
Side four
  1. "Lonely Fire" (Davis) – 21:21

2000 double CD reissue[edit]

Disc one
  1. "Great Expectations/Orange Lady" – 27:23
  2. "Ife" – 21:34
  3. "Recollections" (Zawinul) – 18:55
  4. "Trevere" (Davis) – 5:55
Disc two
  1. "Go Ahead John" – 28:27
  2. "Lonely Fire" – 21:21
  3. "The Little Blue Frog" (Davis) – 9:10
  4. "Yaphet" (Davis) – 9:39

Personnel[edit]

Musicians[edit]

Additional personnel[edit]

2-LP original
2-CD reissue
  • Bob Belden – reissue producer
  • Seth Foster – reissue digital remastering at Sony Music Studios, NYC
  • Bennie Maupin – reissue main liner notes
  • Swing Journal Co., Ltd. Japan – reissue backcover photography
  • Uve Kuusik – reissue liner notes photography
  • Howard Fritzson – reissue art direction
  • Randall Martin – reissue design
  • Rachel Dicono – packaging manager
  • John Jackson – production assistance

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The Rhythm & The Blues". Billboard: 41. July 22, 2000. Retrieved April 16, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b Kolosky, Walter (December 31, 2008). Miles Davis: Go Ahead John (part two C) – Jazz.com | Jazz Music – Jazz Artists – Jazz News. Jazz.com. Retrieved on 2011-04-03.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Freeman (2005), p. 92.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Jurek, Thom (November 1, 2002). Review: Big Fun. Allmusic. Retrieved on 2011-02-02.
  5. ^ a b c d Jenkins, Todd S. (June 1, 2001). Review: Big Fun. All About Jazz. Retrieved on 2011-02-02.
  6. ^ a b c Faust, Edwin C. (September 1, 2003). Review: Big Fun. Stylus Magazine. Retrieved on 2011-02-02.
  7. ^ a b Palmer, Bob (June 20, 1974). Review: Big Fun. Rolling Stone. Retrieved on 2011-02-02.
  8. ^ a b c d Chambers (1998), p. 199.
  9. ^ a b Freeman (2005), p. 93.
  10. ^ a b c Ephland (2007), p. 302–303.
  11. ^ a b Product Notes – Big Fun. Muze. Retrieved on 2011-02-02.
  12. ^ a b c d Christgau, Robert (1974). "Consumer Guide: Big Fun". The Village Voice. Retrieved on 2011-02-02.
  13. ^ a b Cook, Richard (2004). "Review: Big Fun". The Penguin Guide to Jazz: 424.
  14. ^ a b Hoard, Christian (ed.) (November 2, 2004). "Review: Big Fun". Rolling Stone: 215, 218.
  15. ^ "Miles Davis: Big Fun". Miles Davis Official Website. Retrieved 2011-10-01. 
  16. ^ Top LP's & Tape – For Week Ending June 8, 1974 (108–200). Billboard. Retrieved on 2011-02-02.
  17. ^ Tiegal, Eliot (June 1, 1974). "Jazzmen Fusing Rock Into Music for Wider Appeal". Billboard: 1, 10.
  18. ^ Charts & Awards: Big Fun. Allmusic. Retrieved on 2011-02-02.
  19. ^ Columnist (May 4, 1974). "Review: Big Fun". Billboard: 62.
  20. ^ Christgau, Robert (1969–89). Consumer Guide: The Grades. Robert Christgau. Retrieved on 2011-02-02.

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]