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Miles Davis: On The Corner (1972)



When this album with that terrific cover had been released in 1972, it  tanked equally at the charts, sales and with critics. Some of them called it “An insult to the intellect of the people” while others chose the more precise phrase “Repetitious crap”. Down Beat outdid them all with: “Take some chunka-chunka-chunka rhythm, lots of little background percussion diddle-around sounds, some electronic mutations, add simple tune lines that sound a great deal alike and play some space solos. You’ve got a ‘groovin formula, and you stick with it interminably to create your ‘magic’. But is it magic or just repetitious boredom?”

To each their own, but the record survived better than its contemporary reviews and is now hailed as a masterpiece, usually by folks outside of the jazz idiom. Davis’ approach was still jazz in the exploratory sense, but its strong deviation from traditional improvisational avenues confounded listeners who just wanted Davis to play his trumpet and swing.  After decades in the wilderness, On the Corner has experienced a renewed wave of acclaim in the 21st century.

Retrospective reviews now highlight the cutting-edge nature of Davis’ approach to funk and the restless creative spirit at the heart of the album. It’s not jazz in any traditional sense, but On the Corner is an engrossing listening experience that can help bring in non-jazz fans to the genre. 50 years after it represented Davis’ lowest point, On the Corner now reads as another mighty peak in the Davis catalogue, one that can even contend with some of his greatest work. Jon Hassel had known it all along.


(a mix-up collage of six sources)


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