The thing about Miles Davis that stands in most contrast to most of today's jazz musicians is his fierce insistence on forward motion. As George Cole writes in the liner notes to Live at Montreux 1991, "Miles Davis never went back."
In many of discussions about "today's music," it isn't long before some wiseass decries modernity. This grand tradition exists in every generation, as the music of the contemporary never can quite capture the glory of the past. But with Davis: "If anybody wants to keep creating, they have to be about change."
Not all change is good, but acceptance of the ephemerality of life serves a great purpose in art.
Davis' refusal to "go back" is what makes this Blu-ray release so compelling. Here is the trumpeter playing through the legacy of Gil Evans, his frequent collaborator and friend, along with conductor Quincy Jones, the Gil Evans Orchestra and the George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band. Kenny Garrett (alto saxophone) and Wallace Roney (trumpet) also share the stage.
As if to toy with Davis, Jones begins by saying that he'd like to go back to Birth of the Cool. The applause for Davis wanes, the trumpeter puts on his specs, the orchestra winds up. "Boplicity" takes some coaxing, but Miles' muted trumpet is inimitable even if his spirit and body have seen better days.
By the time the richly evocative "Maids of Cadiz" waves into place, Roney can't keep the smile off his face. Davis deftly handles the solo, muted at first then flooring into full-blooded playing. He concentrates, strains, moves miles head.
Moments of awe collide with proof of fragility, proving Davis as existing in the raucous but necessary duality of power and weakness. He doesn't fight it; his inspired lines don't oppose the lesser cries. He doesn't buckle when he reaches for water. He doesn't weaken when Roney helps him change pages. He doesn't stop creating.
On "Blues for Pablo," he passes the solo to Roney after enjoying a playful exchange. Davis fans off the younger trumpeter and toasts the band. "It's a great way to feel 15 again," says Jones.
There's also a moment in "Orgone" after Davis blasts a few lines. The camera focuses on his face as he turns to Garrett and Roney. He stares, then breaks into a grin and shares yet another moment with the awed Roney as Garrett takes hold.
The Blu-ray cleanly presents the show from July 8, 1991. It provides an unadorned, unfussy look at Davis in his last Montreux concert. He is honouring a friend, of course, but this release gives us one more chance to honour him and to admire the continual spirit of creation that was an essential constituent of his life. There are interviews with the likes of Claude Nobs and Monty Alexander to flesh out the release. The audio, vital to a release like this, comes in both DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix and uncompressed LPCM 2.0 stereo fold down. Both do a great job at pulling out the finer points of Miles' playing and separating the various instruments, offering a rich and complete sonic experience.
Miles Davis died just a few months after the performance captured here. He never went back.