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The Friday Morning Listen

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First posted on Mark Is Cranky:

The music that Miles Davis put together for William Cayton’s Jack Johnson documentary could not have been more dissimilar from what Wynton Marsalis constructed for the recent Ken Burns’ Unforgivable Blackness – The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson. Wynton’s take was more of a period thing, with bits of W.C. Handy and Jelly Roll Morton, in addition to his own compositions.

Miles, on the other hand, brought an all-star cast (Herbie Hancock, John McLaughlin, Steve Grossman, Billy Cobham, Michael Henderson) into the studio and came out with something far closer to rock than jazz. A Tribute To Jack Johnson explodes out of your speakers with “Right Off”. It’s a big, swaggering workout based on just a few chords. It seems that that swagger was what Miles was going for, as Jack Johnson was surely that type of man.

The second (and closing!) tune, “Yesternow”, is a much more pensive composition. It’s got its moments of abstractness as well as loping funk. There’s a fair amount of tension as well, which reminds me of the ugliness of the time in which Jack Johnson was a star. This tension and sense of disconnection is further amplified with a short quote from Miles’ own “Shhh/Peaceful” (from In A Silent Way).

This has been an interesting week: Martin Luther King day, the Burns Jack Johnson documentary and the inauguration of President Bush…with all of the attendant celebration, dissent and snarling debate. It’s that debate that makes me think that as far as we’ve come from the abject ignorance and cruelty of the past, we do still have some distance to travel.

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