Miles Davis: Right Off
Miles Davis (trumpet)
A Tribute to Jack Johnson (Columbia S 30455)
Steve Grossman (soprano sax), Herbie Hancock (organ).
Composed by Miles Davis.
Recorded: New York, April 1970
Rating: 100/100 (learn more)
I once read a review of The Tribute to Jack Johnson by a New York jazz writer who claimed the album title referred to a "little known" American boxer. I nearly spit-up my oatmeal! So I good naturedly wrote the guy to say I liked his piece, but he should really know that Jack Johnson was one of the most famous boxers who ever lived. I never did hear back from him. But, soon after, he wrote a scathing review of a book I'd written. That was the last time I pointed out any egregious errors to a reviewer (including the ones he made about my book). It's a shame, really, because if you don't understand the history of Jack Johnson, you don't understand the history of Miles Davis. And if you don't understand that, you shouldn't be writing about Miles in the first place.
Though Davis's In a Silent Way helped to lay the fusion groundwork and Bitches Brew received all the credit, the third album recorded after the other two was actually the most important to the genre. "Right Off" from that album was jazz-rock fusion's harbinger.
The tune was simply a spur-of-the-moment jam based upon a vamp John McLaughlin was working on for his own music. But with this performance, McLaughlin fired off one of the first great jazz-rock guitar warning shots. His reverberating and twisted jazz chords, which he strummed as a rock guitarist would, and his nasty jazz-blues runs created an infectious vibe. Bassist Michael Henderson was just as important. His funk-drenched lines, along with Cobham's funky rock-based drumming, provide a thick underpinning that propels the entire piece. Miles hadn't even written out a part for himself. The red light was on. He excitedly grabbed his horn and ran into the studio to join in, bursting out with some power punches to aid and abet the jabs Herbie Hancock and Steve Grossman were throwing. This was a heavyweight bout.
You see, it all comes back to Jack Johnson, one of the most famous boxers who ever lived. And don't you forget it!
The extraordinary recording sessions for Jack Johnson have become legendary. They are very ably described by Bill Milkowski in his liner notes to the must-have Complete Jack Johnson Sessions, a collection that came out years later.
Reviewer: Walter Kolosky