The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions, Columbia's latest
addition to the Miles Davis reissue series, documents the period
from January 27, 1970 to June 4, 1970 and contains unedited
takes from the sessions plus previously unreleased material.
A bit of background: Jack Johnson was the world heavyweight
boxing champion from 1908-1915. Miles felt an affinity toward
Johnson; not only because Miles himself boxed, but because of
the racial issues of being a Black man in America both men
faced. Director William Clayton made a documentary movie
about Johnson's life. A Tribute To Jack Johnson is the
soundtrack to the film. The album was released in the summer
A Tribute To Jack Johnson was a continuation of Miles' musical
direction away from more traditional jazz forms. The densely
layered music of Bitches Brew, recorded in August of 1969, was
stripped down and became funkier and more groove oriented.
The music also incorporated more elements of rock with the
guitar work of John McLaughlin. For listeners whose only Miles
Davis recording is Kind Of Blue and want to hear some "electric
Miles," The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions may be the
starting point to work your way backward, as well as forward,
through the Miles Davis catalog.
Disc Three: April-May 1970
Disc Three contains the April 7th session that produced most of
the A Tribute To Jack Johnson album. The original liner notes
mistakenly listed two sessions, one as November 11, 1970. As
with "Go Ahead John," it is a pleasure to hear the unedited
takes. Other than sax player Steve Grossman, Miles used
musicians who weren't part of his touring band. Billy Cobham,
later to team with McLaughlin in the Mahavishnu Orchestra,
again sits in the drummer's seat. Michael Henderson, then
playing bass with Stevie Wonder, would later become a
member of Miles' band. Herbie Hancock makes an extended
cameo appearance at the session, playing organ. John
McLaughlin was still a member of the Tony Williams Lifetime
(and not yet a disciple of Sri Chinmoy). Given the number of
sessions he did with Miles and how guitar-dominant the music
on the box set is, it's interesting to note that McLaughlin was
never officially a member of any of Miles' bands.
Miles wanted the music to reflect the movements, footwork,
jabs, and punches of a boxer. The Cobham/Henderson rhythm
section lays down a solid foundation with a steady groove that
is still agile enough to swing. The distorted guitar comping of
McLaughlin combines the power of rock with jazz chord
voicings that lay the harmonic foundation for Miles and
Grossman to improvise over.
The first of the two tracks on the original Jack Johnson is "Right
Off." The title comes from Miles taking a jab at the Lifetime song
"Right On," from their Turn It Over album. The session was
loosely structured and very spontaneous: the main body of the
piece starts out with a bored McLaughlin messing around in the
studio and the others joining in. And at one point, Herbie
Hancock unexpectedly drops in and is enlisted to play organ.
The highlight of the piece is Miles' upper register playing, which
fans regard as some of his finest. The takes for this track also
show that Teo edited out much of Herbie's playing.
The second track is "Yesternow," named by James Finney,
Miles' hairdresser. A third of "Yesternow" comes from "new take
4," based on a slowed-down version of the bass line from
James Brown's "Say It Loud, I'm Black And I'm Proud." The
remainder comes from other sessions edited together by Teo.
Disc Three also includes two takes of the song "Honky Tonk,"
which have Keith Jarrett making his studio debut with Miles.
Although the structure of the tune is very repetitive, the solos on
the second take, especially Miles', make this one worth sitting
through. It ends with a satisfied Miles saying, "Teo, play some
of that one."
Miles Davis - Trumpet; John McLaughlin, Sonny Sharrock -
Guitar; Michael Henderson, Dave Holland, Ron Carter, Gene
Perla - Bass; Billy Cobham, Jack DeJohnette - Drums; Chick
Corea, Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock - Keyboards; Steve
Grossman, Wayne Shorter - Saxophone; Bennie Maupin - Bass
Clarinet; Airto- Percussion; Hermeto Pascoal - Vocals
1. (11:10) - Right Off (take 10)
2. (04:35) - Right Off (take 10 A)
3. (06:00) - Right Off (take 11)
4. (08:50) - Right Off (take 12)
5. (09:51) - Yesternow (take 16)
6. (15:49) - Yesternow (new take 4)
7. (10:06) - Honky Tonk (take 2)
8. (11:29) - Honky Tonk (take 5)
Playing Time.........: 01:17:50
Total Size...........: 461.46 MB