Thursday, February 09, 2006

Book No. 3: Running the Voodoo Down by Phil Freeman

I'm going to come clean from the start: Phil Freeman's a friend of mine and a hell of a writer. Even if I didn't know the guy, I'd be flipped-out in-love with this book.

Running the Voodoo Down is a critical assessment of Miles's electric period, starting in 1968 with the introduction of a Rhodes in the Filles de Kilimanjaro sessions to the hip-hop electrofunk of his last few albums in the late-80s and early-90s. Freeman spends time lovingly dissecting the music to talk about what works and what doesn't (in his opinion, which is formidable) and lingers over select topics, such as an evaluation of the guitarists who pass through Miles's band and studio during this period.

Miles created some of my favorite music between 1969 and 1975, most of which, as Freeman points out, is only available via bootlegs. The studio albums are also brilliant, but (again, a major point of Freeman's) sliced and diced in the studio and quite different from the expansive monster funk of the live shows. Both studio and stage shows were miles ahead (pun intentional) of almost everything happening at the time. The comparisons that leap to mind - Parliament/Funkadelic, Sly & The Family Stone, James Brown, Can - all had different goals and means to get there. And none of them had Pete Cosey, Davis's ace-in-the-hole guitarist in the early 70s.

Can is actually the closest analogue to Davis's early 70s music to my mind. Both had the same bifurcated approach to studio and stage shows, and both seemed to draw from the same well of Stockhausen noise and groove. This was probably a one-way conversation, though, because I seriously doubt that Davis was aware of, let alone interested in, Can, whereas the Germans could not help but be aware of the jazz legend. This is all my own theory, by the way. Freeman mentions Can at one point but doesn't draw an explicit analogy between their early 70s output.

Anyway, Freeman's book is smart, opinionated, thorough, and thoroughly fascinating. Recommended to all fans of electric Miles and avant-skronk. I want to also mention that these adjectives also describe Freeman's previous book New York Is Now!, a fantastic introduction to the current free jazz scene. Buy 'em both and send me your thank-you emails later.


Very briefly: In light of my book deal, there's no way in the world that I'm going to have time to read 50 books this year. I'll keep reading and reviewing at this blog, but I hereby renounce the 50 books challenge until next year. I'm sure my adoring fans, if I actually had any, would be crushed. Buck up, imaginary troupers. Keep that chin high.


Pacze Moj 11:39 AM, February 09, 2006  

Don't tease us; we are crushed! Well, maybe not crushed, but more than a bit flattened. Of course, the discount you'll give us on your book will help things...


And I'm sure you'll end up reading your own book more than fifty times in the editing, re-editing, and re-re-editing processes.


By the way, do you recommend any books for someone who likes jazz but doesn't know the first two things about it?

Hayden Childs 6:59 PM, February 09, 2006  

Thanks, Pacze!

The question about books for people who like jazz but don't know anything about it is harder. I think Freeman's one of the best jazz writers out there right now, but his interests are fairly unfriendly to jazz neophytes. This isn't to say that rock fans wouldn't find some resonance in Freeman's particular topic, but I would start by buying/downloading/borrowing/stealing a handful of albums and gauging your own reaction to them before doing any reading about them.

However, that said, the Rough Guide to Jazz seems to be a fairly decent, albeit somewhat neutral, encyclopedic look at the topic if that's what you're looking for.

Anyway, the jazz albums I think are both a great introduction to the language and great works of art on their own are Coltrane's My Favorite Things, Coltrane's A Love Supreme, Miles's Kind of Blue, Miles's In A Silent Way, Miles's On The Corner, Mingus's The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady, Mingus's Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus (that was fun to write!), Ornette Coleman's The Shape Of Jazz To Come, Monk's Brilliant Corners, and Sonny Rollins's Saxophone Colossus. I admit that this list is prejudiced towards the mid-century greats, but these are the albums that made jazz make sense to me.

Pacze Moj 11:13 AM, February 13, 2006  

Thanks for the list of albums. I'm pretty sure I've heard most of them at least once, but I'm trying to work through them one-after-the-other (and more than once) to get myself a little more jazz-educated.


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