Sunday, November 12, 2023

Miles Davis - The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions [2003] (5 x CDs)


Miles Davis - The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions [2003] (5 x CDs)

The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions were recorded in April 1970 by Miles Davis and released in September 2003. These sessions formed the basis for the 1971 album Jack Johnson, as well as some of the studio portions of Live-Evil.

Of all the Miles Davis recordings, the 16 weeks of sessions that created a single, two-selection LP produced by Teo Macero called A Tribute to Jack Johnson have been the most apocryphal. While the album itself was a confounding obscurity upon release -- due to its closeness in proximity to the nearly simultaneous release of the vastly inferior yet infinitely more label-promoted Live at the Fillmore East -- its reputation as the first complete fusion of jazz and rock is cemented. It also garnered a place in the history books for guitarist John McLaughlin, the axis around who's raw, slash-and-burn playing the entire album turns.

The five-CD Complete Jack Johnson Sessions set, covering February 18 to June 4 of 1970, reveals that a revolving cast of musicians entered the Davis/Macero music and sound lab and made a series of mind-bending, often inspired -- yet sometimes maddeningly monotonous -- recording dates, where the creation of backbeat-driven grooves and short, rhythmic, rock- and funk-inflected riffs were the only ideas presented by Davis; everything else flowed freely, for better or worse. No less than five albums have benefited from these sessions: the others include Live-Evil, Get Up with It, Directions, and Big Fun. The two cuts that make up A Tribute to Jack Johnson, "Right Off" and "Yesternow," make up the last two selections on disc five. The arrangement of the session is basically chronological. Thus, there are not only numerous takes of a composition but insertion and remake takes as well. For instance, there are two takes of "Willie Nelson," two inserted "versions," and two remakes, all sequenced here in a row. Likewise, is the strange genesis, deconstruction, and rebirth of "Go Ahead John," which appeared in this form on Big Fun. Still, despite the hypnotic grooves where already elongated tunes turn into monolithic groove structures, the historical importance of these sessions and the sheer listening pleasure they provide in doses cannot be overestimated.

There are 17 previously unissued performances here, 14 takes, and alternates that have never been issued in full form! As a small example, the official unearthing of the "Duran" alternate take offers so much more in terms of different instrumentation (many alternates here provide this) and ambience than the circulated version that it is nearly a different tune altogether. The roots of "Right Off" and "Yesternow," which appear on disc three, compared to the final heavily edited versions on the album as startlingly different compositions. Evolution becomes not only the crux of the Davis sessions, but a whole new way of making jazz records. These sides reveal how, decades later, Davis's own playing remains firmly committed to the jazz ideal as a soloist despite the fact that McLaughlin and others such as Bennie Maupin, Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter, Jack DeJohnette, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, Steve Grossman, Michael Henderson, Ron Carter, Sonny Sharrock, Airto, Dave Holland, and Hermeto Pascoal were essentially playing jam- and groove-based rock.

The role of guitarist Sonny Sharrock is finally defined here. It has previously been discounted and provided endless grist for the Davis rumor mill how he was mixed out of the session. Yes, he was, but so was almost everyone but McLaughlin and Miles at one point or another. Check out Sharrock's killer slide playing that appears on the second inset of "Willie Nelson." For those who worship at the McLaughlin altar, there are the extra minutes of screaming, fuzz-drenched wailing on "Right Off" that were left on the floor by Macero. But this set is full of moments like that, such as the previously unreleased "Sugar Ray," a futuristic look at electronic noise -- with rhythm, as jazz.

It is true that attempting to listen to this as a box is an admittedly long, arduous, and sometimes difficult task. Taking on individual pieces, in a changer, or even a disc at a time, is a deeply engaging, provocative listening experience. If any recordings needed to be released in order to document the perfect fusion of jazz and rock, in addition to Miles' musical and studio development, it's these.  (AllMusic review by Thom Jurek)






Track lists


01 Miles Davis - Willie Nelson (Take 2) 6:42

02 Miles Davis - Willie Nelson (Take 3) 10:22

03 Miles Davis - Willie Nelson (Insert 1) 6:32

04 Miles Davis - Willie Nelson (Insert 2) 5:24

05 Miles Davis - Willie Nelson (Remake Take 1) 10:45

06 Miles Davis - Willie Nelson (Remake Take 2) 10:19

07 Miles Davis - Johnny Bratton (Take 4) 8:18

08 Miles Davis - Johnny Bratton (Insert 1) 6:39

09 Miles Davis - Johnny Bratton (Insert 1) 5:20

10 Miles Davis - Archie Moore 4:44


01 Miles Davis - Go Ahead John (Part One) 13:08

02 Miles Davis - Go Ahead John (Part Two A) 7:01

03 Miles Davis - Go Ahead John (Part Two B) 10:06

04 Miles Davis - Go Ahead John (Part Two C) 3:39

05 Miles Davis - Go Ahead John (Part One Remake) 11:05

06 Miles Davis - Duran (Take 4) 5:38

07 Miles Davis - Duran (Take 6) 11:21

08 Miles Davis - Sugar Ray 6:16


01 Miles Davis - Right Off (Take 10) 11:10

02 Miles Davis - Right Off (Take 10a) 4:34

03 Miles Davis - Right Off (Take 11) 5:59

04 Miles Davis - Right Off (Take 12) 8:50

05 Miles Davis - Yesternow (Take 16) 9:50

06 Miles Davis - Yesternow (New Take 4) 15:48

07 Miles Davis - Honky Tonk (Take 2) 10:06

08 Miles Davis - Honky Tonk (Take 5) 11:29


01 Miles Davis - Ali (Take 3) 6:50

02 Miles Davis - Ali (Take 4) 10:16

03 Miles Davis - Konda 16:31

04 Miles Davis - Nem Um Talvez (Take 17) 2:51

05 Miles Davis - Nem Um Talvez (Take 19) 2:50

06 Miles Davis - Little High People (Take 7) 6:52

07 Miles Davis - Little High People (Take 8) 9:29

08 Miles Davis - Nem Um Talvez (Take 3) 4:37

09 Miles Davis - Nem Um Talvez (Take 4a) 2:05

10 Miles Davis - Selim (Take 4b) 2:16

11 Miles Davis - Little Church (Take 7) 3:18

12 Miles Davis - Little Church (Take 10) 3:14


01 Miles Davis - The Mask (Part One) 7:48

02 Miles Davis - The Mask (Part Two) 15:47

03 Miles Davis - Right Off 26:53

04 Miles Davis - Yesternow 25:34




  1. Jack Johnson is (too) often overlooked, even underestimated in the MD canon - but for me that album is a worthy and ambitious successor to Bitches Brew. Thanks for the sessions, BB! Best, TC

    1. Thanks TC.
      Bill Cayton's documentary Jack Johnson is a great watch as well.
      The 1971 album is regarded as one of his best and especially in the field of jazz rock. It a very rock album to me.

  2. Hello BB, and thanks a million for this incredible Miles set. I'm about to take a deep dive into Miles' discography, beginning with Birth of the Cool right thru to Miles And Quincy Live At Montreaux. I've got a few early Prestige albums en route courtesy of Discogs which will complete my Miles CD collection, but the boxsets offered here (sadly much too unaffordable these days) will be an integral part of that deep dive so thanks once again. Now I just need to find the 20-disc Montreux set !

    This comment is my way of an apology for not writing you sooner. I discovered this fabalous Alladin's cave last year and did mean to write sooner to thank you for the all the treasure, but.... Thanks to you, I've rediscovered my love for the compilation album, and the Grapefruit collections in particular have been amazing, re-wiring my understanding of where rock and all its tributaries was at in the late 60's, early 70's. I want to say thanks to you also for your careful curation of the albums here, from expert tagging, the inclusion of artwork and liners, to high quality rips and easy to use file providers. And from one former blogger to another, the absence of ads here is much appreciated ! The site is a pleasure to browse.

    Thanks so much BB,

    1. Hi Wes.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and kind words. I always feel that compilations are like maps to explore new sounds. These have often led to new discoveries that have enlightened my senses. I hope it does the same for others.
      FYI, I do have the 20-disc Montreux set, I will post in the future.