Get Up With It (Columbia, 1974)
An appreciation by Christopher Laramee
Recorded at various sessions between 1970-74, what is technically a hodge-podge collection of jams (stylistically, chronologically) has somehow become, over time, one of the Dark Magus' towering achievements. A heck of an ALBUM LISTEN for starters, its unheralded ranking in Davis' pantheon has done the record's reputation nothing but good over the long haul. Over-familiarity and endless reissuing of seemingly every other album he made between 1960 to 1975 has had a tendency to dilute their impact. Kind of Blue, Bitches Brew, On the Corner and Sketches of Spain, to name a few of the acknowledged bangers among many, have mos def lost a bit of lustre due to the near constant influx of yet another "DEFINITIVE" version appearing shortly after the earlier version(s). But people seem to gobble 'em up, so what do I know?
As with most of Miles' post-1958 output, Teo Macero is the producer/conductor/editor and all around general glue holding the shit together. His technical mastery in assembling seamless edits from disparate sessions, jams and versions deserves its very overdue tip of the hat from the music industry. Fuck the Grammys and lifetime achievement awards and all that, Buildings and institutions should be erected and dedicated in his honor. Check out a list sometime of the records he's worked on. You'll see what I'm saying.
And the list of players on this particular platter are no slouches. One of the few constants throughout these jams is Michael Henderson on the Fender bass. His solid lines anchor the madness occurring around him, be it a tranquil modal wander like the epic "Maiysha" or the Stockhausen inspired breakbeat organ-voodoo of stunner "Rated X." Mtume's hand percussion is a layer present on all of these songs too and deserves attention for the shine he gives, pushing the performances upwards and onwards- not for nothing does he get a track named for him. Reggie Lucas and Pete Cosey ply their guitars with attention to shimmer and attack, but stand at the ready to ramp up the volume and hit some dirt noise and angular funk with slack-jawed glee. Miles' Bitches Brew compatriot John McLaughlin shows up as well on the aforementioned "Rated X" to scour and preen. Al Foster, Bill Cobham and Bernard Purdie hit the skins to rude effect. With rhythm kings like those dudes at your disposal, you can relax and stretch out knowing something's gonna happen.
The one single defining factor effecting this collection is Davis' adoption of organ and piano textures, played by the man himself, in addition to his jittery wah-wah trumpet bleats. Opening up the songs with his minimal vamps (excepting "Rated X," which sounds like he jammed coke straws in all the keys, just to let it wail). Yeah, as loathe as I am to drop it like that, this is a VERY seventies cocaine record, albeit scoured of a lot of twaddle thanks to Mr. Macero's scissor job. Interesting to note that shortly after the record's release, Miles disappeared into his apartment, his Ferrari and various elevators and broom closets, babbling and brooding to himself and no-one else for close to ten years of paranoia chants.
That's what makes this double record, which is essentially a salvage job, so alien and, let it be noted, more interesting than the rest of his seventies albums by a long shot. Drug addiction and general burnout had made Miles a basket case and the record company (Columbia) was quite ready to get something else out before he shut down. It's stature over the years as one of his most maligned and misunderstood releases makes sense due chiefly to the fact that there is no over-arching concept to it, nothing to tie it together conceptually like say, On the Corner or Bitches Brew. This is the the 1970-1975 Miles Davis mixtape that you can throw on randomly and find something strange and funky at any point. The fact that it was released as just another album only adds to its weird contours and textures. True head music for the people, only the people weren't listening by this point. So it was simply released and forgotten about quickly.
But let's not get side tracked. This here album rewards many repeated listens, strictly due to the power of the collective improvisations boiling and simmering with a leisurely violence never too far from the surface. Opener "He Loved Him Madly," for Duke Ellington, rolls along like at a fittingly stately crawl, ambient before there was such a thing. Fucking Eno(!!) has expressed as much, publicly saying this particular track had a hand in pushing him along the path of creating some truly vague system music. When the high priest of drool rock says that, you'd best recognize. After all is said and done, this track is one of the highest examples one could proffer of true majesty, a slow burn for the heavy-lidded and the spiritually gifted. Bow down to the exit sign, someone said at some point.
My favorite jam of the bunch has to be the Latin-tinged "Maiysha." A relaxed yet dissonant stroll that unfurls itself slowly over its near fifteen minute running time. Miles switches between the organ and the trumpet here, never hurrying things along too much. At times almost too unbearably gorgeous to believe, the first three quarters floats on a gentle breeze before it changes gears into some more jagged funk, Miles' organ smears itself over the proceedings at random points, with some nice parry and thrust guitar workouts rebounding before the edit silences the whole thing quickly. Again, it cannot be overemphasized how much the edits shape and color this album. Random cut-offs bump the pastoral into the visceral. The modus operandi here seeming to be that there is none, other than grabbing the best bits and throwing them together and weaving a patchwork that loosely hangs together. BANG! GET IT OUT THERE! The commercial imperative to get some more Miles product on the shelves being the number one goal for everyone involved.
This is not a bad thing though. When I say the commerce imperative is not a bad thing in this (and many other cases), I mean that there was just a desire to put some physical product out there. But it also helps that Miles had pretty much absolute creative control at this point due to his very favorable contract with Columbia. "Honky Tonk"'s afterburner bar room blues fuckery sitting astride the afore-mentioned "Rated X"'s jittery bleat? A stretch for anyone to pull off on the most inspired of days but here it works in the most casual of ways. Take it or leave it. It's just another album. If only.
Being one of the truly experimental albums of the 1970's to my ears, Get Up With It can only be truly be explained by being brushed by some kind of accidental magic. Teo going through some tapes and splicing together takes of half-together jams to satisfy Miles and the suits. That's alright though. Why stress it too much and microscope the shit to death? There's some hot grooves there, wacked noise wig-outs and tropical back rubs to calm a guy down. Miles commands them to get the fucker out and so it happens. Done.
Also see this interview with Teo Macareo about producing Miles and another article on Miles' 70's work
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