In December 1967, when he already was the biggest name in jazz, Miles Davis began experimenting with electric instruments and rock and folk influences. It quickly led to impressive results with ground-breaking jazz-rock albums like In A Silent Way (1969) and Bitches Brew (1970), which introduced the trumpeter’s music to the world of rock.
As a result, Davis’ target audience shifted so dramatically that, rather than perform in jazz clubs for a few dozen people as he had done a few years earlier, he played at the 1970 Isle of Wight festival in front of an audience of 600.000, his pioneering mixture of jazz improvisation, psychedelic experimentation and high-energy rock leaving many in the audience in equal amounts ecstatic and bewildered. The event was described by Richard Williams in The Guardian here and documented in the excellent documentary Miles Electric: A Different Kind of Blue, which contains the entire concert as well as a talking heads section that takes its cue directly from Miles Beyond.
Davis carried on experimenting during the first half of the 1970s with wildly exploratory music, in the process laying the foundations for ambient music (Brian Eno has explicitly referred to Davis’ experiments), hip-hop (with the influential On The Corner in 1972) and jazz-funk. On one day, February 1, 1975, Davis and his band recorded two double albums with arguably the wildest, freakiest, most far-out psychedelic, funk-jazz-rock music ever heard, then and since: Agharta and Pangaea. Sadly, no-one was listening at the time.
Having reached the pinnacle of his career, and arguably of the entire jazz-rock movement, Davis retreated for five years from the public eye, and re-emerged in 1981 for a final 10-year long roll-call during which he produced more first-class music (and admittedly some dross as well) and finally received some of the attention and accolades that were his due. He died in 1991.
A pioneering work when it was first published in 2001, Miles Beyond, the Electric Explorations of Miles Davis, 1967-1991, paved the way for a critical re-assessment of this music–particularly of the 1970-75 era, which had been almost forgotten. It remains the only book that contains an in-depth exploration and analysis of Miles Davis’ entire electric period—covering almost half his recording career—based on the testimonies of the musicians who worked with him. Interviewed at length for the book were musicians like Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, Lennie White, Billy Cobham, Pete Cosey, Reggie Lucas, Mtume, Michael Henderson, Sonny Fortune, Dave Liebman, Marcus Miller, John Scofield, Mike Stern, Bob Berg, Darryl Jones, Ricky Wellman, and many, many more. From these testimonies a vivid picture emerges of Davis’ visionary approach to musical composition, improvisation, and how he helped his sidemen to discover new depths in themselves and play better than they had ever played before.
Containing 352 densely-written pages, including a 50-page sessionography by Miles Davis scholar Enrico Merlin, Miles Beyond is a must-read for anyone interested in the electric music of Miles Davis, and for any musician who wants to learn how to play, in the words of Davis, “more than you know.”
The web site miles-beyond.com contains more details from the book plus many additional articles, photos and other paraphernalia.
“An exhaustive, judicious and immensely helpful new study of Davis’ electric work. This fascinating, 400-page tome is not only readable, but a must-have for any serious student of Davis. It steers your attention directly to the radiant heart of the music it so passionately describes.”- Paul de Barros, NPR radio.
“The most important book on Miles Davis ever.”- Mark Prendergast, Bloomsbury Magazine.
“An extraordinary book, brilliant in its conception and delivery, about one of the great musical geniuses of our times. Highly recommended.”- Ken Wilber, philosopher and best-selling author.