Exotic, Bold, Streetwise: Spirited 1972 Album Embraces Davis' "Jungle Sound" with Percussive Foundations, Trance Loops, and Transformational Arrangements
Miles Davis' boundlessly influential On the Corner was so far ahead of its time upon release in 1972, the jazz cognoscenti rejected its groundbreaking concoction as middling in nature. Yet time has a way of righting wrongs and shifting views by adding needed context and perspective to visionary ideas, music, and approaches – the likes of which fill Davis' boldest and most controversial – undertaking. Designed to bring the focus back on the groove and bottom-end frequencies, the funk-loaded On the Corner revolutionized jazz. It also set new standards for record production, presaging remixing and electronica by more than a decade. And the work has never sounded more thrilling.
New degrees of spaciousness and airiness – equally important to the musique concrete arrangements – give the impression Davis and Co.'s creations float in space. Instruments are portrayed in three-dimensional manners, rhythmic loops retain tonal purity, and horn solos skitter across an extra-wide soundstage that takes listeners into Columbia's Studio E. our digital version captures Teo Macero's innovative production – and the trumpeter's cutting-edge aural collages – in definitive fashion.
Heavily inspired by Sly and the Family Stone, On the Corner portrays street vibes and remains Davis' blackest-sounding record. The conscious attempt to connect with youthful audiences tapped into rock and funk is evident not only on the colorful cartoon cover art depicting hot-pants and zoot-suit revelers, but in the music's emphasis of recurring drum and bass grooves. Distinct from Davis' earlier fusion experiments, the record's long-misunderstood set dials back improvisation in favor of beats, loops, and atmospherics that generate trance-like effects. While Davis utilizes his band for core duties – Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock prominently figure – he also relies on an all-star cast of sidemen for concentrated soloing and additional support.
With rhythm providing the basic foundation, other notes fall into place, with their positioning steered by Macero and Davis' editing-room techniques. Looking to the manipulation-based work of Karlheinze Stockhausen and teaming with Stockhausen disciple Paul Buckmaster, Davis re-imagines what grooves constituted and could accomplish throughout On the Corner. The shapes of the songs become completely transformed as they progress. Faint melodies, spacey chords, chunky riffs, wah-wah fills, and repeated motifs bounce in and out of a sonic funhouse that wouldn't be out of place at a Harlem block party. Exotic, intrepid, and filled with Davis' "jungle sound," On the Corner remains daringly hip more than four decades later.