August 1, 2003

Miles Davis
The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions
When Miles Davis began the sessions that eventually coalesced into A Tribute to Jack Johnson in early 1970, he had already turned a historical musical page. His two preceding records—In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew—broke new ground in what was to become a burgeoning jazz/rock alliance. Still, at times those albums sounded like jazzers dipping their feet into waters they weren’t entirely positive they wanted to become immersed in. But by early 1970, any vestiges of “proper” jazz in Davis’ music had been chucked—most notably the replacement of the acoustic bass by its electric counterpart. Not only that, the music was more stripped-down, and the grooves funkier and more urgent.

Davis’ early forays into rock also coincided with his and longtime producer Teo Macero’s new-found penchant for studio chicanery, in which they would splice together various group improvisations to construct a complete take—a technique used extensively for the Jack Johnson album.

Now, with the release of The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions, all of the recorded material from those sessions (which took place between February 18 and June 4, 1970) is available. As with In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, John McLaughlin was Davis’ guitarist of choice. But on those records, McLaughlin didn’t sound like the same guy who eventually reached Coltrane-esque heights of improvisational fury on Mahavishnu Orchestra’s scorching 1971 debut, Inner Mounting Flame. On The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions, however, you not only hear him moving in that direction, but getting there at some points with machine-gun pentatonic flurries and moaning multi-string bends ringing with clanging dissonance.

Another guitarist also contributed to these sessions. On the previously unreleased “Willie Nelson,” the late avant-garde warrior Sonny Sharrock can be heard countering the soon-to-be-Mahavishnu’s Indian-influenced blues with smears of Echoplex-induced insanity.

Historical hugeness aside, five discs is a huge helping of these brilliant, but, at times, rambling tracks. Remember, these sessions were sliced and diced to death, so you’re essentially getting unedited work. But The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions isn’t the sound of Davis merely indicating where he was going, it’s the sound of him being there. Columbia/Legacy. —Darrin Fox

U.S. Bombs
Covert Action

Trends come and go, but punk rock remains as a constant reminder to all rock bands that, no matter how pissed-off they may be, there is always a punk band that will boil down that anger to the absolute barest musical essentials. Covert Action, the eighth album from Southern California’s U.S. Bombs, is one such record—the sonic equivalent to a shiny set of brass knuckles. Guitarists Kerry Martinez and Curt Stitch deftly lay the groundwork for vocalist Duane Peters’ verbal assaults on the government, Free Masons, and the new world order by keeping the guitar tones lean, and the parts mean and to the point. Martinez and Stitch also inject clever counter-melodies through the thick cloud of power chording—a great yin to the yang that is their Johnny Thunders-influenced solos. Hellcat. —Darrin Fox


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