Exeter, Devon UK • Jun 18, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home Music Album Review: Miles Davis – Rubberband

Album Review: Miles Davis – Rubberband

Rupert Morgans-Wicks reviews Miles Davis' lost, posthumous album following its release
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Rupert Morgans-Wicks reviews Miles Davis’ lost, posthumous album following its release

With much of it originally recorded between 1985 and 1986, Davis’ posthumous Rubberband was to be his debut album at Warner Bros., having left Columbia Records. However, for whatever reason, it wasn’t to be released. Only now, 33 years later, does the album surface, albeit in a somewhat altered and updated state by the original producers. 

This is most evident from the opening track ‘Rubberband of Life’, a contemporary remix of the title song. While it begins with a brief quintessentially-Miles trumpet solo, and repetition of “Rubberband, Rubberband” in his distinctive, husky voice, it swiftly shifts into a catchy drumbeat more reminiscent of hip-hop. Before long, chorus and scat-singing from modern R&B artist Ledisi appear, mixed with the drums and occassional rhythms from Davis’ trumpet. It’s an infectiously catchy beginning, but a surprising one – and one which sets the tone for the album, for while the album is intensely rhythmic it does often feel like an odd, sometimes disperate, mixing-pot of genres.

Miles plays unpredictably, doing his own opposite solo in the moments of silence between the chorus’ notes, creating a brilliant interplay

‘This is It’ begins this rollercoaster of styles, a track so 1980s that it wears pastel shades and a perm. Replete with electric guitar-shredding and twangy bass, with a healthy dose of synthesisers, it sounds almost like a Cameo song, except – Miles ever at the forefront – slightly predating their most famous tracks of this type. Amidst all the decade’s favourite sounds, Davis plays a sprightly trumpet, though it’s ocassionally drowned out by its surrounding instrumentation. He’s much more prominent in later track ‘Maze’, which shares the archetypally ’80s reliance on synths and bass, with added bongo for good measure. Despite leaning a little too heavily into their decade’s new sounds, these are both enjoyable tunes, just not tracks that quite showcase Miles as much as one would like. 

Relaxed and beach-like, ‘Paradise’ begins with pounding drums, as if to announce something far more oppressive than the laidback track that follows. It eases into a gentle guitar, aided by a longing, deep tune from Miles; it’s an opening that sounds almost Spanish, bringing to mind Davis’ beautiful, melancholic album Sketches of Spain (1960). However, this soon ends as the songs transitions into a more Jamaican sound, with steele drums and a cabasa, while Miles experiments at great rhythm and speed. It’s a bouncy, tropical tune, with the addition of the Medina Johnson’s choir-like voice catchy chorus about paradise and desire.

With moaning and relaxed guitar, the drumbeat heavy ‘So Emotional’ follows one of the more curious tracks. Much of it sounds like an early-2000s RnB song, Lalah Hathaway singing about how “love is all I need” and devotion, with echoes of “oohin the background. It’s easy-listening, but Miles seems to be almost absent; he plays a pleasingly-repetitive sultry trumpet in the background and enjoys a brief, soulful solo a little way in. Yet, the tune seems so ahead of the time in which the album was originally recorded, one wonders if they simply spliced some Miles riffs into a more modern track. The later track ‘See I See’ is a better, rarer, example of Miles actually getting to shine – a more solo-orientated piece where he plays funky, erratic trumpet to a bouncy guitar. The closing titular track Rubberband is also a fine showcase for his playfully teasing trumpet, which ratchets up and keeps hanging in an enticing stop-and-start tune, as it battles with Rick James-esque synthesisers and electric guitar solos. 

The closing titular track Rubberband is also a fine showcase for his playfully teasing trumpet, which ratchets up and keeps hanging in an enticing stop-and-start tune

‘Give It Up’ is a return to the bold, emphatic 70/80s funk-stylings of earlier, enthused with an irresistable bass that twangs just like a – yes – rubberband. It’s fantastic and full-on, with a brilliantly catchy scaling trumpet-riff as its chorus, and sprightly solo-work from Miles. A flute even features later on, which flutters and jumps, a high-pitched moment of relief from the brilliant, heavy trumpets and guitar of before. ‘Carnival Time’ is much the same, a brilliant and rousing piece of funk with another completely enthrallingly rhythmic chorus of trumpets. Miles plays quickly and unpredictably with them, doing his own opposite solo in the moments of silence between the chorus’ notes, creating a brilliant interplay

Meanwhile, ‘I Love What We Make Together’ embraces the RnB elements once more, with Randy Hall crooning romantic lyrics in a way not dissimilar to Isaac Hayes or Oliver Cheatham. It’s much more of a pop song, and a good one at that, with the added bonus of the world’s greatest trumpeter, Miles, but it only adds to the weird scattering of genres that the album wavers between. Finally, at almost 10 minutes long, the portmanteau track ‘Echoes in Time/The Wrinkle’ is reminiscent of previous Miles work – long, experimental. While it does become another instance of 80s funk and guitars, mixed with Miles’ yearning trumpet, it does curiously begin with an ominous, haunting synthesiser section akin to Angelo Badalamenti’s synth-jazz scores for Twin Peaks, but now with a lone trumpet playing into the pitch-black night. 

Rubberband is an unusual album. For fans of Miles, there are glimpses of his genius work, but too much of it is drowned out, put aside, or planted into genres where it seems out of place. For others, it plays as a hugely enjoyable album that leaps between genre and style, but so ludicrously wide-ranging that it could cater to anyone. The album is a delight to listen to, that cannot be denied – a fun, funky 11-track party. But it does feel messy, and given its hugely-delayed history, along with the apparent recent tweaking of tracks to modernise it, you are often left wondering just how much has been sampled, spliced – stuck together.  Had Davis continued to live, it’s not hard to expect his music to have evolved into something so different; he was always looking to evolve – from hard bop, to free jazz, to the polarisingly brilliant rock-infused jazz of Bitches Brew (1970) – but it’s hard to believe that it would end up, while wonderfully catchy, as disparate and chaotic as this can be. However, it’s a testament to the lasting power and influence of Miles Davis that, nearly three-decades after his passing, new music can not only be released but be released with genuine excitement surrounding it – that is always worth celebrating. 

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