|Big Fun is a double album by American jazz recording artist Miles Davis, released April 19, 1974, on Columbia Records.
It contains tracks recorded between 1969 and 1972 by Davis. Largely
ignored on its original release, it was reissued on August 1, 2000 by
Columbia and Legacy Records with additional material, which led to a belated critical reevaluation.
Big Fun presents music from three different phases of Miles Davis's early-seventies "electric" period.
Sides one and four ("Great Expectations/Orange Lady" and "Lonely Fire") were recorded three months after the Bitches Brew sessions and incorporate sitar, tambura, tabla, and other Indian instruments. They also mark the first time since the beginning of Miles Davis's electric period that he played his trumpet with the Harmon mute which had been one of his hallmarks, making it sound much like the sitar. This contributed to creating a very clear and lean sound, highlighting both the high and low registers, as opposed to the busier sound of Bitches Brew which placed more emphasis on the middle and low registers.
"Ife" was recorded after the 1972 On the Corner sessions, and the framework is similar to tracks from that record. It has a drum and electric bass groove (which in fact at one point breaks down due to mistiming) and a plethora of musicians improvising individually and in combinations over variations on the hypnotic bassline.
"Go Ahead John"
Recorded on March 7, 1970, "Go Ahead John" is an outtake from Davis's Jack Johnson sessions. The recording is a riff and groove-based, with a relatively sparser line-up of Steve Grossman on soprano saxophone, Dave Holland on bass, Jack DeJohnette on drums, and John McLaughlin on guitar with wah-wah pedal. It was one of the rare occasions in which Davis recorded without a musical keyboard. It was recorded in five sections, ranging from three to 13 minutes, which producer Teo Macero subsequently assembled in post-production four years later for Big Fun. DeJohnette provides a funky, complex groove, Holland plays bass with one constant note repeated, and McLaughlin plays in a staccato style with blues and funk elements. According to one music writer, the track's bass parts has "a trancelike drone that maintains" the predominantly Eastern vibe of the album.
Davis's trumpet and McLaughlin's guitar parts were heavily overdubbed for the recording. The overdubbing effect was created by superimposing part of Davis's trumpet solo onto other parts of it, through something Teo Macero calls a "recording loop". Macero later said of this production technique, "You hear the two parts and it's only two parts, but the two parts become four and they become eight parts. This was done over in the editing room and it just adds something to the music [...] I called [Davis] in and I said, 'Come in, I think we've got something you'll like. We'll try it on and if you like it you've got it.' He came in and flipped out. He said it was one of the greatest things he ever heard". DeJohnette's drums were also manipulated by Macero, who used an automatic switcher to have them rattle back and forth between the left and right speakers on the recording. In his book Running the Voodoo Down: The Electric Music of Miles Davis, Davis-biographer Phil Freeman describes this technique as "100 percent Macero" and writes of its significance to the track as a whole, stating:
This doesn't create the effect of two drummers. It's just disorienting, throwing the ear off balance in a way that forces the listener to pay close attention. The drums cease to perform their traditional function. Jack DeJohnette's beats, funky and propulsive on the session tapes, are so chopped up that their timekeeping utility is virtually nil. Macero has diced the rhythm so adroitly that we are not even permitted to hear an entire drum hit or hi-hat crash. All that remains are clicks and whooshes, barely identifiable as drums and, again, practically useless as rhythmic indicators. Thus, the pace is maintained by Dave Holland's one-note throb and the occasional descending blues progression he plays. The feeling one gets from "Go Ahead John" becomes one of floating in space.
1. Great Expectations
Bass – Ron Carter Bass [Fender] – Harvey Brooks Bass Clarinet – Bennie Maupin Drums – Billy Cobham Electric Guitar – John McLaughlin Electric Piano – Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock Percussion – Airto Moreira Sitar [Electric], Tambura – Bihari Sharma, Khalil Balakrishna Soprano Saxophone – Steve Grossman
Bass – Michael Henderson Clarinet, Flute – Bennie Maupin Drums – Al Foster, Billy Hart Percussion [African] – James "Mtume" Forman* Piano – Harold I. Williams*, Lonnie Smith Soprano Saxophone – Carlos Garnett Soprano Saxophone, Flute – Sonny Fortune Tabla – Badal Roy
|3. Go Ahead John
Bass – Dave Holland Drums – Jack DeJohnette Electric Guitar – John McLaughlin Saxophone – Steve Grossman
|4. Lonely Fire
Bass – Dave Holland Bass [Fender] – Harvey Brooks Bass Clarinet – Bennie Maupin Drums – Billy Cobham, Jack DeJohnette Electric Piano – Chick Corea Electric Piano, Organ [Farfisa] – Joe Zawinul Instruments [Indian] – Airto Moreira, Khalil Balakrishna Percussion – Airto Moreira Saxophone - Wayne Shorter
|1. Great Expectations||27:34|
|3. Go Ahead John||28:26|
|4. Lonely Fire||21:21|