Reviewed by Raoul Hernandez, Fri., Oct. 25, 2002
Miles DavisThe Complete Miles Davis at Montreux 1973-1991 (Columbia/Legacy) Six years, four milestone box sets, and dozens of important single title reissues after the stunning Miles Davis & Gil Evans, The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings, comes the Miles Davis assemblage to separate the completists from the obsessives. The Complete Miles Davis at Montreux 1973-1991 gathers every minute of every Davis performance at the storied Swiss jazz festival into a 20-CD live compendium of the last seven years of his life. Dropping into the trumpet prince's inaugural appearance with Al Foster's rock & roll beat and Reggie Lucas' guitar funk, Montreux launches into historical preservation with "Miles in Montreux '73 #1," a 16-minute mountain jam that's followed by its 20-minute second part. Cautious at first, Davis' septet is blazing by the end of the first disc. Blazing rock music, blazing jazz -- a blazing fusion of the two, for which Davis and his men are roundly booed. Though the next disc ends their debut in applause, one has to wonder whether it was ill health (as the brief but handsome accompanying booklet professes) rather than a bruised ego that put 11 years between Davis' first performance at Montreux and his next, in 1984, which is captured on four CDs. The following year, 1985, is also on a quartet of discs (duplicated afternoon and evening shows), after which '86, '88, '89, and 1990 are sufficed with a pair of CDs apiece. In other words, Montreux's core is Eighties-era Davis, which, for even the most ardent worshipper of his golden horn, is cause for great sorrow. Eight different versions of Cyndi Lauper's melancholy baby "Time After Time," all of them eight to 12 minutes long, is bound to reduce a fan or two to tears -- and not for the song's emotional content. And yet, each and every one of them is kind of blue. Davis blows some lovely delicacy into the tune starting in '84 and forever after. While the Reagan/Bush years were a fallow period for Davis in the studio, live, his passion never abated. Numerous ruminations on Michael Jackson's "Human Nature" stand out in the context of keyboard-driven, open-air, electro jazz. By the '89-'90 sets, with sidemen like tenor saxman Rick Margitza and alto guy Kenny Garrett, plus the occasional guest like Chaka Kahn (on "Human Nature"), Davis more or less transcends the material and its musical backdrops. The encore: '91's nostalgic teaming with Quincy Jones to revisit Gil Evans territory, recorded three months before Davis' death. Sad and beautiful -- as opposed to the merely sad 20th disc, live in Nice, 10 days later. For better and worse, The Complete Miles Davis at Montreux 1973-1991 completes a tale fundamental to American music.