Why I Love Miles & Weather Report - Part 2 - By Terry Bozzio
Miles would strike you with his appearance alone, handsome, with the "cut" upper body of a Boxer & always wearing the best of the latest fashion trends! (From his "Sharp as a tack in my Brooks Brothers suit!"-days of the late 40's & early 50's, to his affiliations w/ Haute Couture French, & later Japanese designers through the 80's, Miles was always considered a "Fashion Plate"!)
Musically, I guess the first thing that hits you about Miles is his tone... so dark, thick, fat, warm, full, but cool (because of his lack of tremolo) and unlike the pathetic brassy parade trumpet sound that almost everybody else gets by comparison. Even some of the best sounding trumpet players resort to using the flugle horn to try to approach his darkness of tone.
There was a "serious as death" attitude about Miles' playing. I felt awe & a sense of struggle and suffering and something really very deep emotionally from him. Then, his chops were great, his choice of notes were always the hippest. He had a great way of weaving his playing from inside to outside the chords or tonal center. And the music was psychic, like ESP or Voodoo to me. As I did not know the tunes they were playing, I could not yet differentiate between what was improvised or what was pre-composed. All I knew was that nobody looked at each other to give or get cues and stuff would happen seemingly by magic! Miles would rip through an ascending chromatic lick, end on a staccato high note and fling his arms in the air holding his trumpet above his head one moment, then step over to the other mic which had a different tone and panning & place the bell over the mic & play some long, low, sorrowful melody and the band would evaporate & follow him instantly into the new direction, having just heard this one phrase.
Jack was slamming all the time... stirring things up with his free form style of time and groove. It was like he never played the same thing twice, but was always keeping the pulse and a constant rhythmic comment. He had a 4-Way coordination approach that used 8th & 16th note mixed sticking and independence between right hand on ride cymbal/ left hand snare and right foot bass drum. But unlike anyone else he had the ability to fill in between that with varying 1, 2, or 3 8th notes in a row, simultaneously w/ left foot on the hi hat. This gave the effect of 4 independent rhythmic lines happening at the same time, but never repeating and having the hi hat randomly chiming in with parts of the straight 8th pattern. It was very cool and singularly unique. (Especially at this time when everyone was playing hi hat quarters & eighths a la Tony.)
He never used "imitation" (where a soloist would play a phrase, say in 16th notes and then the drummer would imitate by playing a similar 16th note phrase... sort of to "prove" he was "listening". This is something that would become a sadly overused fad in fusion music.) But instead, he had his own contrasting expression that seemed to propel a soloist with out getting in his way. He also stayed away from using triplets unless it was part of the meter (like the 6/8 feel of "Sanctuary"). I believe he made this decision by choice to distinguish himself from any reference to the identifiable styles of Tony Williams and Elvin Jones and the unique way each of those masters used triplets in their respective expressions. Instead Jack seemed to do a whole lot with double stroke rolls and their sticking permutations. However he did it, he came out to fill one of the biggest drum thrones in the world (left open by Tony Williams) in his own unique way, leaving drummers the world over missing nothing. (Not such an easy feat!)
I later found out (much to my dismay!) that Jack had come to New York as an accomplished pianist!!! And somehow found himself working more as a drummer!!! This cruel fact leaves all of us "mere" drummers more in awe of his contribution to the percussive arts! And may give us insight as to his supreme musicality.
In writing this now in 2010 I am reminded of how strange and wonderful my life has been in it's unexplained mysteries. Who would have thought at that time, that I would be called for my first recording session (several years later in 1973-74) to play drums on Latin-Jazz trumpeter Luis Gasca's "Born to Love You" album, on John Coltrane's track "A Love Supreme", backing up none other than Jack DeJohnette who wanted to play piano on one track!!! (And that he would use my drum set to play drums on the rest of the album!!!) My life has been filled with these kind of unplanned, inconceivable, synchronicities & "brushes with greatness".
On the left side of the Fillmore stage was a strange looking "wild man". He sat with unruly curly hair and a beard, with a kind of crazy "other-worldly" look in his eyes. Like a shamen or a witch doctor, he seemed tapped-in to the "other side". He dressed in white muslin, perched on the edge of a low chair and surrounded by some ethnic looking textiles spread out on the floor around him. On these fabrics he had the most exotic array of strange & unknown (to me) percussion items I had ever seen. Things I would later come to learn to know as Quica, Caxixi, Berim-Bau, Tambourim, Reco-reco, Shekere, A-go-go bells and many more countless noise makers, wood blocks, little drums, slide whistles, Samba whistles, Air Hoses, duck calls... you name it! This was Airto Moreira!
Never before had I seen or heard anybody make those sounds and play percussion in this way! He would listen, pick up something, wait for some unplanned space in what was being played, shake something violently, drop it, pick something else up and groove or comment or contrast with what was happening. Always keeping a sense of line and an abstract insistence of strange noises to inject perfectly into the jazz melee he was enveloped in! At times he would sing/moan or primal scream into the music! And somehow it was always right! As if by magic or spiritualism he would conjure up the right sounds at the right moment to transform what might have been a momentary foray into "free jazz", to something entirely different that was at once, cathartic and enigmatic. It took you to a far away place like a travel documentary to some strange land you had never seen or known about.
Airto's feel was so cool... so loose but grooving in the way only true Brazilians can groove. (I think it was Emil Richards or Joe Porcaro who once told me: "You can be at dinner with a Brazilian and he'll pick up a box of matches off the table and use it like a shaker and play some of the best stuff you've ever heard! And they'll do this on any found object!")
A few years later I got to support Airto's shows with Flora Purim at Keystone Corner. (Patrick O'Hearn & I were playing with Herbie Hancock's trumpeter: Eddie Henderson at that time). By then he had a drum set & congas & surdo... and a big table for his percussion toys! But I was so impressed by his show in that he made the audience feel as if we were invited into his living room. He took long breaks from the music to talk with us & explain to us what he was doing, where it came from, what these strange instruments were, etc. It was very much like attending a clinic! And the honesty, unpretentiousness and openness he shared with us would definitely have an influence on all of us who later did drum clinics. I remember as he was explaining some of his exotic instruments from Brazil or custom made ones from metal sculptor Peter Engelhard, he paused and picked up something that looked like 2 small pieces of 2 x 4's... he said " And these... are just a couple of pieces of wood I found on the street in New York! But, they sound good, so I keep them!!!"
There are so many great moments in Airto's recorded history (Solo, Miles, Chick Corea & Weather Report) it would be hard to pick just one as an example. But on Miles' album "Big Fun" deep into the track "Great Expectations", there are a series of breakdowns that feature an uncanny fusion of Brazilian Triangle, Berim-Bau,and Caxixi, mixed with a polytonal gliss on the sympathetic strings of an Indian Sitar, the drone of a Tambura and the "Tin" sound of Badal Roy's Tabla. This combination haunts me to this day as being one of the coolest musical moments i have experienced. Then over this multi-cultural, polytonal, ambient texture, Miles floats in the melody of "Orange Lady", a Weather Report tune (from their 1st album) in yet another key! At the end of this Chick Corea plays a series of chords descending in Minor 3rds that still leaves me breathless.
Which brings us to Chick Corea who gave us the impression of a little Gothic/Mad Scientist, Jazz-Hipster escapee from the Boston Music Conservatory's Psych-Ward! Classically trained, we heard every thing from Bartok to Musique Concrete from his Fender Electric, but with a Latin-Blooded fiery-rhythmic expressive power that evoked the Machismo of an Emotionally Committed Flamenco Dancer in complete control his body and the effect it was having on his fully engaged audience! This guy was BURNING! Ripping through his keyboard with such passion that it raised him up off his seat at times! And with an unparalleled precision that made you sure that the consideration of the concept of a "clam" was not even remotely possible by this guy!
So deep harmonically & melodically! But rhythmically!!!! He was on fire! Playing clusters of notes in Latin phrases like a Timbale Player, or using odd groupings of notes (5 or 7 for ex.) repeated to polyrhythmically, to create not only textural richness because of his speed, but also very sophisticated percussive effects that had a profound impact on the rhythm sections overall prowess & density. (I was not so surprised when the late Michael Brecker, who had just humbled me by playing drums like Elvin with a swing & feel I could never aspire to achieve, self-effacingly got up and dismissed himself by revealing to me the Chick was also an incredible drummer!!!)
He and Dave Holland and Jack had a concept they used with this group I believe was called "Circle" or something (?), where the idea was to always play against what the other two were doing to stir this pot of sound stew into ever spiraling events of abstract expression. It was out! There is footage of Miles, offstage reacting to & bearing witness to it's very "outness"! But the events were a good contrast to the rest of the show when used in small doses, and when Miles had had enough, he walked back on stage and with one note morphed the whole band back into something more cohesive and on to new and different directions.
This was another appealing aspect of Miles' music in general: the "Mercurial" aspect of it. It was alway changing rapidly, never "beating a dead horse", so to speak, by exploiting an area for too long or to the point of losing it's novelty, freshness & impact. (Look back at all his albums in the 60's and you would be hard pressed to find anything over 4-5 minutes in length!!) Miles was about saying what you had to say like you meant it, & getting out of the way after you have said it! He always chastised his musicians to "Don't play any of that shit you been practicin'...!". He wanted to hear something in the moment, unrehearsed, authentic to one's self expression and in response to what was happening on stage in that ensemble in that special never to be repeated moment of existential existence!
On that note it might be appropriate to insert the following quote that was kindly sent to me by a friend (music contractor Jules Chaikin recently:
Dave Holland was wonderful to me because he had the orchestrational depth of being able to use the bowed upright bass as well as the electric. He could be funky, he could rock out heavy halftime bass lines ("Bitches Brew"), he could burn on the upright & swing his ass off at frightening speeds, and he could sing with a bow. But I think the thing I love most about him is his harmonic/melodic knowledge when called for. There is a "space ballad" tune on Live/Evil probably written by Hermeto Pascoal: "Little Church". Listen to Dave's melodic counterpoint on this track, for it is sheer genius of the highest level! After all his role is as "the bass player" in this situation, however he manages to fulfill the role of accompanist and still contribute the most vitally important and beautiful counter melodies through his masterful skills of knowing how to play through chord changes!Link to Part 1