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Eagle Eye Media presents
Miles Electric: A Different Kind of Blue (1970)

"I've been playing one way so long, I've just got to change."
- Miles Davis

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: December 07, 2004

Stars: Miles Davis
Other Stars: Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Joni Mitchell, Carlos Santana, Keith Jarrett, Dave Liebman
Director: Murray Lerner

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:26m:52s
Release Date: November 16, 2004
UPC: 801213902095
Genre: jazz

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+B+B+ B-

DVD Review

When an established and much-loved artist tries to change his or her signature style, there are sure to be growing pains, as much for the creators as for their audiences—part of why the audience comes to love someone is because they've given them something that hasn't been seen or heard before, but then the audience seems to want that exact same thing over and over and over again. Miles Davis was hardly the first musician to face this conundrum with his popular following—the abuse heaped on Bob Dylan for his alleged apostasy in going electric may be the high water mark for this kind of perceived audience betrayal—but when one of the great jazz trumpeters of all time decided to make a major shift in his sound, not everybody wanted to come along for the journey. This documentary is an incisive look at that particular moment in Davis's creative life, highlighted by his appearance at the Isle of Wight Festival in August 1970; Davis's music was changing, though not everybody would agree that that change was for the better.

It's a testament to the exalted status that Miles Davis holds in jazz that a feature-length film could be produced about a single transition in his career. Davis's peak of critical and public acclaim was probably the release of Kind of Blue, his 1959 album that remains one of the all-time great jazz recordings. But Davis wanted to move past it, even if everyone else didn't want him to; the film features a clip from a 1964 appearance of Davis and his group on The Steve Allen Show, and Davis already appears restless with doing yet another cover of a cut from that album. And so he moved on to a style that was more free form, less melodic, as influenced by rock and pop as by jazz; most of the musicians interviewed here loved it—Paul Buckmaster talks about listening to Davis's 1970 album Bitches Brew as "a life-changing experience—but the critical consensus was largely against it, and is represented here by Stanley Crouch, who calls Davis's music of these years "just these formless long pieces that seemed to go nowhere."

Davis was clearly a shamanistic figure for the musicians that played with him; they speak about Davis with an almost religious awe, though none of them is quite clear as to what led to this particular stage in his musical evolution. Was it drugs? Boxing? His new pretty young wife? Nobody is sure, but they know that Davis paid a price for it—as Joni Mitchell says here, "Every time you change, you have to be prepared to experience massive rejection."

Then you've got an opportunity to decide for yourself—Davis's full set from the 1970 festival, which runs thirty-five minutes or so, is presented in its entirety. This was a huge, huge festival, and I don't imagine that a free-form, half-hour-long jazz odyssey is what the 600,000 attendees expected or wanted; even if you respect the music, you're unlikely to love it. (As I was watching it myself, the wife popped in—she who was weaned on the New Orleans Jazz Festival—and provided her own quick assessment: "What the hell are you watching? The music is awful.")

Miles Davis's professional and personal life no doubt is fertile material for a great full-length biography or documentary; until someone ascends that formidable mountain, however, this is a worthy look at a pivotal transition in his unparalleled career.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The Isle of Wight footage doesn't look so hot, but the new interview segments are well shot, and the whole thing has been transferred with care, and little visual interference.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: All three audio tracks have something to recommend them, though the one that sounds best is the 5.1 Dolby; it's got warmth to the music, but still keeps the volume and balance on the interview footage at acceptable levels.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
9 Deleted Scenes
Packaging: Flexbox
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. insert booklet with an essay on Davis
Extras Review: What's billed as Additional Interviews is in effect a package of nine featurettes, on different aspects of Davis's music. Keith Jarrett speaks about Davis's exquisite ear, and many of the musicians talk about the thrill of being asked to play with him. They also talk about Davis's charisma; his critics; the musicians' onstage camaraderie; and on what the music might mean. Also, though the DVD advertises a sessionography for Davis's first electric period, I was unable to access it, either on a Mac or a PC.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

Jazz fans will find much to love here—even if this isn't your favorite Miles Davis period, it's an opportunity to hear and see the man and his music, to come to understand his influence on his colleagues and protégés, and to learn more about a particular moment when he tried to expand the range of what we think of as jazz.


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