On the Corner
|On the Corner|
|Studio album by Miles Davis|
|Released||October 11, 1972|
|Recorded||June 1, 6 and July 7, 1972|
|Studio||Columbia Studio E, New York|
|Miles Davis chronology|
On the Corner is a studio album by jazz musician Miles Davis, recorded in June and July 1972 and released later that year on Columbia Records. Drawing on funk and rock music, the work of experimental composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, and electronic recording techniques, it was in part an attempt by Davis to reach a younger African American audience. Instead, it became one of his worst-selling recordings and was scorned by establishment jazz critics at the time of its release. It was also his last studio album of the 1970s; for the remainder of the decade he recorded haphazardly and focused instead on live performance before temporarily retiring from music in 1975.
The critical standing of On the Corner has improved dramatically with the passage of time. The album has been recognized as a pivotal influence on subsequent funk, electric jazz, post-punk, electronica, and hip hop music. In recent years, publications such as Fact and Pitchfork Media have named it among the best albums of the 1970s. In 2007, On the Corner was reissued as part of the 6-disc box set The Complete On the Corner Sessions, joining previous multi-disc Davis reissues.
Background and recording
Following his turn to fusion in the late 1960s and the release of rock- and funk-influenced albums such as Bitches Brew (1970) and Jack Johnson (1970), Miles Davis received substantial criticism from the jazz community. Critics accused him of abandoning his talents and pandering to commercial trends, though his recent albums had been commercially unsuccessful by his standards. Other jazz contemporaries, such as Herbie Hancock, Cecil Taylor, and Gil Evans defended Davis, the latter stating that "jazz has always used the rhythm of the time, whatever people danced to".
In early 1972, Davis began conceiving On the Corner as an attempt to reconnect with the young African American audience which had largely forsaken jazz for the groove-based work of Sly and the Family Stone and James Brown. In an interview with Melody Maker, Davis stated that "I don't care who buys the record so long as they get to the Black people so I will be remembered when I die. I'm not playing for any white people, man. I wanna hear a black guy say "Yeah, I dig Miles Davis.'" Also cited as a major musical influence by Davis was the experimental composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, who Davis first heard in 1972. Speaking about Stockhausen's influence in his autobiography, Davis wrote:
I had always written in a circular way and through Stockhausen I could see that I didn't want to ever play again from eight bars to eight bars, because I never end songs: they just keep going on. Through Stockhausen I understood music as a process of elimination and addition.
The work of musician Paul Buckmaster (who played electric cello on the album and contributed some arrangements) and the "harmolodics" of Ornette Coleman would also be an influence on the album. In his biography, Davis later described On the Corner with the formula "Stockhausen plus funk plus Ornette Coleman."
Recording sessions began in June 1972. Both sides of the record consisted of repetitive drum and bass grooves based around a one-chord modal approach, with the final cut culled from hours of jams featuring changing personnel lineups underpinned by bassist Michael Henderson. Compared to his previous recordings, Davis often abstained from playing the trumpet, instead often electing to play keyboards. On the Corner also saw producer Teo Macero apply his electronic "cut-and-paste" editing technique (pioneered in the late 1960s on In a Silent Way), which also allowed Macero and Davis to overdub and add effects. Some of the musicians expressed misgivings about the unconventional musical direction of the sessions. Saxophonist Dave Liebman stated that "The music appeared to be pretty chaotic and disorganized." Buckmaster stated that "it was my least favorite Miles album."
Packaging and release
The album cover featured an illustration by cartoonist Corky McCoy depicting ghetto caricatures, including prostitutes, gays, activists, winos, and drug dealers. The packaging only featured one stylized photograph of Davis, and was originally released with no musician credits, leading to ongoing confusion about which musicians appeared on the album. Davis later admitted to doing this intentionally: "I didn't put those names on On the Corner specially for that reason, so now the critics have to say, 'What's this instrument, and what's this? ... I'm not even gonna put my picture on albums anymore. Pictures are dead, man. You close your eyes and you're there."
Upon its release, the album's commercial success was as limited as that of other albums since Bitches Brew, topping the Billboard jazz chart but only peaking at #156 in the more heterogeneous Billboard 200. Paul Tingen wrote that "predictably, this impenetrable and almost tuneless concoction of avant-garde classical, free jazz, African, Indian and acid funk bombed spectacularly, leading to decades in the wilderness. As far as the jazzers were concerned, it completed Davis's journey from icon to fallen idol."
Reception and legacy
|Christgau's Record Guide||B+|
|Down Beat (1983)|||
|Down Beat (2001)|||
|Encyclopedia of Popular Music|||
|Penguin Guide to Jazz|||
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
|Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guide|||
On the Corner was panned by most critics and contemporaries in jazz; according to Paul Tingen, it became "the most vilified and controversial album in the history of jazz" only a few weeks after its release. Saxophonist Stan Getz proclaimed "that music is worthless. It means nothing; there is no form, no content, and it barely swings." Jazz Journal critic Jon Brown wrote, "it sounds merely as if the band had selected a chord and decided to worry hell out of it for three-quarters of an hour," concluding that "I'd like to think that nobody could be so easily pleased as to dig this record to any extent." Eugene Chadbourne, writing for jazz magazine CODA, described it as "pure arrogance." In his 1974 biography of Davis, critic Bill Coleman described the album as "an insult to the intellect of the people."
Rock critic Robert Christgau suggested that jazz critics were not receptive to On the Corner "because the improvisations are rhythmic rather than melodic" and Davis played the organ more than trumpet. He praised "Black Satin" but expressed reservations about the absence of a "good" beat elsewhere on the album. Rolling Stone magazine's Ralph J. Gleason wrote positively of the album. He found the music to be "so lyrical and rhythmic" and praised the dynamic stereo recording, calling Davis "a magician." He concluded by saying "the impact of the whole is greater than the sum of any part."
Despite remaining outside the purview of the mainstream jazz community, On the Corner has undergone a critical rehabilitation in recent years, with many critics outside jazz characterizing it as "a visionary musical statement that was way ahead of its time". In 2014, Stereogum hailed it as "one of the greatest records of the 20th Century, and easily one of Miles Davis' most astonishing achievements," noting the album's mix of "funk guitars, Indian percussion, dub production techniques, loops that predict hip-hop." According to Alternative Press, the "essential masterpiece" envisioned much of modern popular music, "representing the high water mark of [Davis'] experiments in the fusion of rock, funk, electronica and jazz". Fact characterized the album as "a frenetic and punky record, radical in its use of studio technology," adding that "the debt that the modern dance floor owes the pounding abstractions of On the Corner has yet to be fully understood." Pitchfork described the album as " the sound of icy hot heroin coursing through the veins [...] longing, passion and rage milked from the primal source and heading into the dark beyond." In a positive review for The Wire, critic Mark Fisher wrote that "the passing of time often neutralises and naturalises sounds that were once experimental, but retrospection has not made On the Corner’s roiling, febrile, bilious stew any easier to digest.
AllMusic stated that "the music on the album itself influenced [...] every single thing that came after it in jazz, rock, soul, funk, hip-hop, electronic and dance music, ambient music, and even popular world music, directly or indirectly."  BBC Music noted the music and production techniques of On the Corner "prefigured and in some cases gave birth to nu-jazz, jazz funk, experimental jazz, ambient and even world music." Critic Simon Reynolds also noted the album's influence on a variety of post-punk and industrial artists. Stylus Magazine's Chris Smith wrote that the record's music anticipated musical principles that abandoned a focus on a single soloist in favor of an emphasis on collective playing: "At times harshly minimal, at others expansive and dense, it upset quite a few people. You could call it punk." Fact named On the Corner the 11th best album of the 1970s, while Pitchfork named the album the 30th best album of that decade.
All songs written by Miles Davis.
|1.||"On the Corner/New York Girl/Thinkin' One Thing and Doin' Another/Vote for Miles"||June 1, 1972||20:02|
|2.||"Black Satin"||July 7, 1972||5:20|
|3.||"One and One"||June 6, 1972||6:09|
|4.||"Helen Butte/Mr. Freedom X"||June 6, 1972||23:18|
- Miles Davis – electric trumpet
- Dave Liebman – soprano saxophone (A1)
- Carlos Garnett – soprano and tenor saxophone (B1, B2)
- Chick Corea – electric piano
- Herbie Hancock – electric piano, synthesizer
- Harold I. Williams – organ, synthesizer
- David Creamer (A2, B1, B2), John McLaughlin (A1) – electric guitar
- Michael Henderson – electric bass
- Collin Walcott (A1, B1, B2), Khalil Balakrishna (A2) - electric sitar
- Bennie Maupin – bass clarinet (B1)
- Badal Roy – tabla
- Jack DeJohnette– drums
- Jabali Billy Hart – drums, bongos
- James "Mtume" Foreman, Don Alias – percussion
- Paul Buckmaster – cello, arrangements
- Robert Honablue - engineer
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