1971: Jack Johnson
Rated as: Album
Album Status: Classic
Specific Genre: Jazz Fusion, Jazz-Rock
Main Genres: Jazz, Rock
Undertones: Avant-Garde Jazz, Blues Rock
1 Right Off 2 Yesternow
The outrageous one
Miles Davis’ fusion albums of the late 1960s and early 1970s form something like the cast boy group of progressive jazz: the chilled-out mysterious one (In a Silent Way), the brainy weird one (Bitches Brew), the wild one (Live-Evil), the aggressively sexy one (On the Corner), and now: the one that everybody wants to hang out with – the outrageous one, the fun guy! In a less moronic way to talk about it, it really seems like Davis had a sort of vision for this period and what to do with the fusion style: though similiar, each of these albums represents one perfect stylistic distillation of what fusion could do.
Jack Johnson, then, is obviously and audibly spliced together from several different jam sessions (this is most notable when a short part of In a Silent Way shows up on side B) – but let’s talk about what it sounds like if you have no edition history to consult.
On the side-long first track (which is what this album is all about) a small raunchy combo kicks it right off with a simple blues rock rhythm, a distorted electric guitar attack, a bass finding its bluesy groove and staying with it – did I mix up records in the sleeve again? No, after John McLaughlin’s hilariously primitive riffs cease for some moments, Davis’ piercing trumpet takes over about two minutes in and it’s simply a ride of a totally loose groovy funky unstoppable jazz rock jam from here on, as the trumpet and the guitar exchange improvised solos and duels without giving it a thought. The soloing in the following ten minutes is just brain-melting, Davis screeches, rocks, and lumbers his way through the blues rock like you’ve never heard him. This part ends about twelve minutes in with some short ambient fusion intermezzo but thankfully immediately returns to the same relentless groove, with Steve Grossman’s saxophone and a new trumpet sound, the band continues to groove even swampier and Herbie Hancock is thrown into the mix. Judging from his performance he must have thought something like: „Okay guys, if you’re not taking this seriously, I’m not“ and plays a totally disastrous solo on some heavily distorted, disastrously sounding organ and the result somehow is instant history. With this completed line-up, they tip the rhythm into even dirtier territories, McLaughlin wraps it all up with a razor-toothed shredding guitar fest à la Hendrix and well that’s that.
Side B is more akin to the calmer, more textured and nuanced fusion sound of Silent Way and Brew, and it’s also a very good track, with calm keyboard layers for Davis to float away on, the typical start-stop bass patterns and heavy editing. It’s a generally more pensive, deliberate affair that gets screechier and decidedly cross-grained in the second ten minutes when keyboard, electric guitar and trumpet are constantly fighting for attention. Good stuff.
Either way, with all the splicing done here, the reduced fusion line-up and the improvised feel to it, this is not a „perfectly executed“ album – but who cares, among Davis’ fusion and jazz-rock albums, this stands as an absolutely unique, unrepeatable jam session that might well become your favourite „rock“ record for a while. Indispensable.