Recorded at Columbia Studio B, New York City:
February 18, 1970 (1-1 to 1-4);
February 27 (1-5 to 1-9);
March 3 (1-10 to 2-5);
March 17 (2-6, 2-7);
March 20 (2-8);
April 7 (3-1 to 3-6);
May 19 (3-7 to 4-2);
May 21 (4-3);
May 27 (4-4, 4-5);
June 3 (4-6 to 4-10);
June 4 (4-11 to 5-2).
"Right Off" (5-3) and "Yesternow" (5-4), which appeared on the LP "A Tribute To Jack Johnson" were spliced together in the studio and consist of several takes with additional trumpet solos by Miles Davis, an excerpt of "Shhh/Peaceful" from the February 18, 1969 session and overdubs with an orchestra arranged by Teo Macero and a narration by Brock Peters (on "Yesternow").
1-6 and 2-7 released on "Directions".
2-1 to 2-5 released as one assembled track on "Big Fun".
3-7 partially released on "Get Up With It" and "Live Evil".
4-3 partially released on "Directions".
4-9, 4-10, 4-12 released on "Live Evil".
All other tracks previously unissued.
Of all the Miles Davis recordings, the 16 weeks of sessions that created a single, two-selection LP produced by Teo Macero called A Tribute to Jack Johnson have been the most apocryphal. While the album itself was a confounding obscurity upon release - due to its closeness in proximity to the nearly simultaneous release of the vastly inferior yet infinitely more label-promoted Live at the Fillmore East - its reputation as the first complete fusion of jazz and rock is cemented. It also garnered a place in the history books for guitarist John McLaughlin, the axis around whose raw, slash-and-burn playing, the entire album turns.
The five-CD Complete Jack Johnson Sessions set, covering February 18 to June 4 of 1970, reveals that a revolving cast of musicians entered the Davis/Macero music and sound lab and made a series of mind-bending, often inspired - yet sometimes maddeningly monotonous - recording dates, where the creation of backbeat-driven grooves and short, rhythmic, rock- and funk-inflected riffs were the only ideas presented by Davis; everything else flowed freely, for better or worse. No less than five albums have benefited from these sessions: the others include Live-Evil, Get Up With It, Directions, and Big Fun. The two cuts that make up A Tribute to Jack Johnson, "Right Off" and "Yesternow," make up the last two selections on disc five. The arrangement of the session is basically chronological. Thus, there are not only numerous takes of a composition but insertion and remake takes as well. For instance, there are two takes of "Willie Nelson," two inserted "versions," and two remakes, all sequenced here in a row. Likewise is the strange genesis, deconstruction, and rebirth of "Go Ahead John," which appeared in this form on Big Fun. Still, despite the hypnotic grooves where already elongated tunes turn into monolithic groove structures, the historical importance of these sessions, and the sheer listening pleasure they provide in doses, cannot be overestimated.
There are 17 previously unissued performances here, 14 takes, and alternates that have never been issued in full form! As a small example, the official unearthing of the "Duran" alternate take offers so much more in terms of different instrumentation (many alternates here provide this) and ambience than the circulated version that it is nearly a different tune altogether. The roots of "Right Off" and "Yesternow," which appear on disc three, compare to the final heavily edited versions on the album as startlingly different compositions. Evolution becomes not only the crux of the Davis sessions, but a whole new way of making jazz records. These sides reveal how, decades later, Davis's own playing remains firmly committed to the jazz ideal as a soloist despite the fact that McLaughlin and others such as Bennie Maupin, Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter, Jack DeJohnette, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, Steve Grossman, Michael Henderson, Ron Carter, Sonny Sharrock, Airto, Dave Holland, and Hermeto Pascoal were essentially playing jam- and groove-based rock.
The role of guitarist Sonny Sharrock is finally defined here. It has previously been discounted and provided endless grist for the Davis rumor mill how he was mixed out of the session. Yes, he was, but so was almost everyone but McLaughlin and Miles at one point or another. Check out Sharrock's killer slide playing that appears on the second inset of "Willie Nelson." For those who worship at the McLaughlin altar, there are the extra minutes of screaming, fuzz-drenched wailing on "Right Off" that were left on the floor by Macero. But this set is full of moments like that, such as the previously unreleased "Sugar Ray," a futuristic look at electronic noise - with rhythm - as jazz.
It is true that attempting to listen to this as a box is an admittedly long, arduous, and sometimes difficult task. Taking on individual pieces, in a changer, or even a disc at a time, is a deeply engaging, provocative listening experience. If any recordings needed to be released in order to document the perfect fusion of jazz and rock - in addition to Miles' musical and studio development - it's these.
-Thom Jurek (All Music Guide)
The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions represents a stunning crossroads where boxing, the Black Power movement, the development of rock music as an expression of vast changes in American society, the electronic amplification of jazz, and Miles Davis all came together. That the music heard on this newly-released 5 CD set was boiled down to a mere hour's worth of a soundtrack album, with snippets turning up on Live-Evil and Get Up With It, is amazing. Listening to the music here, most of which has never been released previously, is like finding out something new about someone you thought you knew well.
That Miles Davis should have been drawn to the figure of Jack Johnson is no surprise. Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion and star black sports figure, fought during the early 1900s, at a time when racism was de rigeur and jazz music was only beginning to develop. Johnson liked the high life, enjoyed fast cars and liked women, particularly white women. While Miles preferred black women, he certainly appreciated beautiful ones, had sartorial style, like his home to be well appointed and modern, and also adored fast sports cars. Much has been made of the fact that Miles was born into a middle class background (his father was a successful dentist) but that only seems to have made the racism that he encountered that much more unpalatable, and Davis did encounter his share. The well known incident that occurred in front of Birdland, when Miles was hassled by police for standing outside the club and took a blow to the head from a white detective, seems to have set him firmly on the path of not taking any crap from anyone, an attitude that was certainly in line with that of Jack Johnson as well as boxers that Davis had seen during his lifetime.
Davis was in a highly productive and inspired mode at this time, a mode that had started with the recording of In a Silent Way and continued through Bitches Brew. He also made a big switch with his live bands, moving from the repertoire he had been playing, which was comprised largely of music he'd created with his second great quintet between 1963 and 1967, to the new material he was recording. His live bands changed personnel more frequently, with Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Michael Henderson, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, Steve Grossman, Gary Bartz, and others moving into and out of the band at various times. "I was seeing it all as a process of recording all this music" said Davis, "just getting it all down while it was flowing out of my head." In A Silent Way had been a bellwether, signaling that changes were afoot, not only in Davis' performances of his new music, but in the very methods that were used to create that music in the first place. Both In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew were recorded in small sections, with Davis directing the musicians and allowing them to play freely without worrying about what the final mix for release would be like-in fact, many times the musicians had no idea what would or would not be released. Davis and producer Teo Macero then constructed the final tracks from these performances. On In A Silent Way they took shapeless but incredible segments of music and spliced the performance together to create a piece that had form and structure. The technique was used again on the Bitches Brew album, both on Joe Zawinul's "Pharoah's Dance" and on the title track.
The album A Tribute to Jack Johnson, the soundtrack to the William Clayton-directed film of the same name, was probably the end of the high point of the Davis/Macero edited recordings cycle. The same approach was applied to live recordings such as At Fillmore and to source recordings done at Washington D.C.'s Cellar Door club, resulting in the album Live-Evil. The results were decidedly mixed, with the continuity and structure of the live performances missing. But on Jack Johnson, the producer was able to take what was essentially a studio jam and turn it into the best melding of jazz, funk, and rock music of all time. Considering the furor that Bitches Brew had caused, it is amazing today to consider that Jack Johnson sank without a trace when it was released more than a year after it was recorded, in the summer of 1971. By that time, Miles had rolled his electric band out to live audiences, performing at Fillmore East and West as well as at other important venues, generally as an opening act for some of the most successful rock bands of the day. At the end of August 1970 Davis performed at the Isle of Wight Festival, one of the major rock festivals held in the wake of the successful fests at Monterey and Woodstock. The sessions that are represented on this box set, all recorded between February and June of 1970, were Davis' last recording sessions until 1972, when he recorded the sessions for his highly controversial On the Corner album. Consider this, though: by the time the public heard the recording Bitches Brew (released in April 1970) Davis was already unleashing a much more heavy electric sound on audiences at the Fillmore West (released unedited as the Black Beauty album). And, three days before this performance, he had recorded most of the source material that would be edited into the Jack Johnson album-material that was based much more on straightforward rock and funk concepts with fewer free jazz leanings and which would represent probably his most accessible music until his return to the scene in 1981 after a self-imposed five year silence. In other words, by the time the record-buying public heard Bitches Brew, Davis had already moved another several steps ahead. No wonder the public was unable to keep up with him during this tumultuous period-the man simply had too much music, and too many ideas spilling out of his head for the slow-moving recording industry to keep up with.
("A Tribute To J. Johnson"