Song of the Day: Billy Sedlmayr Weighs in on Miles Davis' Sleeping Giant 'Honky Tonk'

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Miles Davis, Get Up With It. - SONY
  • Sony
  • Miles Davis, Get Up With It.

Every drummer assimilates grooves into his body and mind. The more you listen, more you play, things begin to fall in line. Until you hear a thing that you can't grab hold of, it rolls through what you have heard before and you can't find a way in, so you start the song again but you can't go through it either. You pick up the needle and drop it on the wide lip of vinyl again and again. Close your eyes and in seconds Herbie Hancock plays a clavinet in this circuitous boomerang and it sets up a young Keith Jarret on electric piano fleshing out sound. (That's the same Jarret who, after his tutelage with Miles Davis, put out eight- and 12-album sets of what might be a grandfather to George Winston's over-the-top meanderings.)

This is "Honky Tonk" from Miles Davis' 1970 jazz-rock epic, Get Up With It.

You see, back then if you were in the rooms, under the lights, playing for Miles, and you made it through to cut a record or two with him, you were well on your way. That list is staggering.
(Even percussionist-drummer Mtume—which also happens to be a song title on Get Up With It—
got a record deal and went for the purse with pre-hip-hop chart-topper "Juicy Fruit.")
The man in New York City. - TOM PALUMBO
  • Tom Palumbo
  • The man in New York City.

Anyway, "Honky Tonk" finds Billy Cobham cutting the tempo, half-digging into his hi-hat and kickdrum, and percussionist Airto Moreira is rubbing his hands over skin, bending the air
with wooden birds and howler monkey sounds. Hancock's theme moves in and out of air holes ... Man, Miles must've laughed to himself, mumbling, "Tropical baby, pretty fuckin' Tropical."

John McLaughlin plugs in, dirty-ass rock 'n' roll chords pulling down the bottom end, setting up Miles blowin' patient, sharp notes, hanging in the slapback for a second before arrowing to his target. A piece spliced from "Live Evil" ... you can almost hear Miles' producer from this electrified era (Ted Mareco) thinking, "shit, steal from the best, steal from Miles ..."

Yeah, Columbia studio E, man, that room heard some real paint drying.

Get Up With It, a batch of stuff recorded from '70 to '74, sees Miles on the cover, his face dominated by these huge glasses to see what Miles sees. He'd drop off the earth for seven years after this record came out.

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