Thursday, May 27, 2010

Miles Davis - Amandla (1989)

The following entry is part of Scott Parker's Forgotten Music series.

I have an interesting history with this album. I bought it a few years ago after already exploring most of Miles Davis's output from the 50s through 70s. At first I was sort of reticent about picking up anything Miles made in the 80s. Didn't he, like, start playing synthesizers and stuff, and copping Cyndi Lauper tunes, and making ridiculous-looking album covers? Well, yeah, but at a certain point I shifted my thinking from "I'm going to trust what seems to be the prevailing opinion that no '80s Miles is good" to "Why don't I listen for myself and see what I think?"

I'm glad I shifted my thinking. Amandla is a good album. Not Kind of Blue good or even Live Evil good, but you know what? According to my iTunes, I've listened to Amandla more than any other Miles album over the past year. And though it didn't immediately reveal its quality to me like some of Miles' earlier work, it worked its spell on me well enough over time. It's an interesting album in that I never remember much about it other than the mood I feel when I listen to it—but that's cool. It's the kind of album I put on while I'm washing the dishes, and every once in awhile Miles' trumpet pierces through the din, and it's just kind of nice. Not that it doesn't reward a closer listening; it totally does. Lots of interesting electronic elements happening amidst some solid group interplay, some memorable playing from Miles for how late in the game it was for him at that point, and worthy contributions from sidemen like Kenny Garrett, Joe Sample, and George Duke—seriously, the personnel on this album reads like a who's-who of world-class studio musicians.

I was going to conclude this entry by saying "If you've never listened to Miles Davis before, don't start with this," but now I'm kind of rethinking that. Fact is, I only know one other person who even knows about this album. How about this? If you're interested in moody, intelligent instrumental music and don't care about whether people think you're lame for listening to '80s Miles, check this out. If you don't like it the first time, wait awhile and throw it on again. If you don't like it again, wait some more, then check it out. I'm a big proponent of giving music lots of chances to break through, and Amandla definitely is worth a shot.


  1. Your review has convinced me to seek out this album. I have a dozen Miles Davis CDs, but not this one.

  2. Yeah, he never completely lost his chops. He just continued buying into his myth. It told, but he could still play.

  3. I have never heard this Miles Davis album. After this review, I correct that.


  4. @ George/David

    Cool, let me know what you think!

    @ Todd

    I think his best '80s playing (at least in studio) is on Amandla and Tutu.

  5. Great to see you back, Chris. And this album sounds pretty cool.

  6. I got way into this album when I was in high school and it was brand new, as a good friend was a bass player with a banner on his wall that said "Marcus Miller is God" :). This and Tutu really must be thought of as at the very least albums co-led by marcus, who wrote almost all the tunes on both and was responsible for reconceptualizing what 80s electro-pop Miles could sound like. I like the earlier 80s records to (bits of them in some cases), particularly "We Want Miles" and "Decoy," but I must say that Marcus thought much more orchestrally and had a firmer grip on structuring pop music than when Miles (or whoever was ghosting as arranger) tried it on "You're Under Arrest". With Tutu in particular, Miles is almost a guest artist (not criticizing that, I love the record); here at least he is working with his live band, and the looser tracks do sound like he may have had more input on shaping the arrangements.