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Vinyl Me, Please gives a contested era the deluxe treatment with 'Miles Davis: The Electric Years'

Miles Davis performing at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1969.
David Redfern
Miles Davis performing at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1969.

Few phrases in jazz lore have ever been more fertile or fraught than “Electric Miles” — shorthand for the body of work created by Miles Davis from 1969 on, especially in the following decade.

The trumpeter’s estate, in collaboration with Legacy Records, has already released a slew of acclaimed boxed sets that capture the hazy creative foment of the era. Now those two entities have also partnered with the subscription service Vinyl Me, Please on VMP Anthology: Miles Davis: The Electric Years.

Announced today, it’s a collection of seven albums released between ‘69 and ‘74: In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew, A Tribute to Jack Johnson, Live-Evil, On The Corner, Big Fun, and Get Up With It. Mastered in all-analog fashion at Sterling Sound from direct transfers of the master tapes, the albums will be pressed on 180-gram black vinyl, in a first edition of 2,000 units. Altogether, this body of work represents a pivot point in Davis’ career, with broader implications for improvised music and pop culture.

Among the most outspoken detractors of this oeuvre was critic Stanley Crouch, who made his case in a 1986 essay titled On the Corner: The Sellout of Miles Davis (now anthologized in the book Considering Genius: Writings on Jazz). “And then came the fall,” he wrote. “Beginning with the 1969 In a Silent Way, Davis’s sound was mostly lost among electronic instruments, inside a long, maudlin piece of droning wallpaper music.”

Over time, Crouch’s cantankerous assessment has faded so far into the minority as to become a curio. There have been entire books devoted to Davis’ early electric era, by Paul Tingen, Phil Freeman and others; that musical legacy continues to yield tributes like London Brew, a new all-star tribute from the London scene.

In an absorbing new liner essay for the VMP Anthology, Ben Ratliff appraises this musical corpus as “some of the most confusing music ever made.” Speaking of Davis’ decision-making as the ‘60s drew to a close, Ratliff writes: “He moved in the direction of creating, let’s say, systems that would self-generate, or that he could switch on and switch off, with which he could engage and cleanly disengage. Once the system was in place, his job was to assemble its players and feed it bits of input.”

Marcus J. Moore, who has a piece aboutLondon Brew in today’s New York Times, served as one of the executive producers of Miles Davis: The Electric Years. (The set was produced by Stephen Anerson, Courtney Catagnus, Clay Conder and Kathleen Moloney.) On Instagram this afternoon, Moore posted a promotional clip for the set — adding, in a comment, “If you’re planning to buy one, HURRY UP. These *will* sell out.”

Nate Chinen has been writing about music for more than 25 years. He spent a dozen of them working as a critic for The New York Times, and helmed a long-running column for JazzTimes. As Editorial Director at WRTI, he oversees a range of classical and jazz coverage, and contributes regularly to NPR.