Coming off the recording sessions that produced In A Silent Way (released July, 1969) and Bitches Brew (April, 1970), it was clear that Miles Davis was determined to move his music-making forward. The restlessness and exploration once contained within his solos were now also being expressed via his choice of personnel and his enigmatic non-direction of those musicians in the studio. When In A Silent Way was released, Miles expressly banned any use of the word ‘jazz’, insisting ‘a new direction in music’ be the catch-phrase.
During sessions between February and June 1970, the approach was laissez-faire. Davis had a ‘tape rolling’ policy that aimed to capture moments when they spontaneously arose in the studio. Guitarist John McLaughlin—not an official band member but an absolutely key part of the sessions—commented that “Miles himself didn’t exactly know what he wanted, but he was a man of such impeccable intuition that at the moment it happened, he knew it”
These were Miles’ last sessions for two years, and the material (or segments of it, at least) was issued on a range of albums including Live-Evil (1971) and Big Fun (1974). Some of the tracks did not see the light of day until the release of the five-CD Complete Jack Johnson Sessions in 2003. But the material we are focussed on here was created on April 7th 1970 and edited into the two side-long pieces comprising the album Jack Johnson (released February 1971).
The music was for a documentary film about the life and times of the titular boxer, released in 1970 and nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary. We’ll return to the subject of Mr Johnson later, but first, the music. … (read more)