On March 9, 1972, Miles Davis entered in Columbia Records Studio “E”, and came out with the recording of a real gem, a true fusion of genres: “Red China Blues”.
This piece should be mandatory on the three lists with the most representative music of each one of the genres: Blues, Jazz and Psychedelic music (or acid rock). Or alternatively, if there is a list only for songs fusing genres, “Red China Blues” has to be on the top 10. The presence of each one of the genres is felt in such a way, that even the deaf will feel the difference.
It is the song that I hear the most when I try to get a boost of energy, and one of my favorite Miles Davis compositions. We are in the final stretch of the classified “electric period” (1968-75) of one of the most important trumpeters in Jazz history. It is public knlowledge that, from the late ’60s, Miles Davis began to be influenced by new musical genres that were beginning to dominate the radio stations, including Rock, psychedelic rock, and funk.
These new influences go from Sly and the Family Stone, and James Brown to Jimi Hendrix. Another influence was his marriage, in September 1968, with model and later singer Betty Davis, who ended up opening the door for Miles to get to know this new generation of artists. The result was the electrification of the instruments of their combos.
The starting point was on February 1969, with album “In a Silent Way”. In August of that year, he enters the studio to start recording the album “Bitches Brew“, that would be completed in January 1970. With the huge commercial success that he has obtained with these two albums, Jazz-Rock was born.
In 1972, Miles Davis dives into the study of the compositions of Karlheinz Stockhausen, who would later be considered as one of the most important composers of contemporary music, at the end of the twentieth century. His works revolutionized the perception of rhythm, melody and harmony.
The influence of this German composer on Davis was so great, that critics created a new label for his 1972 works: music space. This music was described as “a lot of mood changes — heavy, dark, intense — definitely “space music“. During this year, 3 out of the 8 songs that were included on the album “Get Up With It“, were recorded. This album would only see the light of day in 1974. This double album, along with another double album “Big Fun“, consists of recordings that Davis was doing between 1969 and 1974. But “Get Up With It” ended up being the last studio album in the 70s. From then on, he only recorded live concerts (“Dark Magus“, “Agharta“, “Pangaea“, …).
Although “Red China Blues” is not the composition most mentioned when talking about “Get Up With It“, I consider a true addiction listening to this theme. I can hear and repeat again, again, and again (I love repeat). When talking about this álbum, the highlight is the song “He Loved Him Madly“, as a tribute to Duke Ellington, and the song “Calypso Frelimo“, one of the most praised of the electric period of Miles Davis.
But I guarantee that “Red China Blues” is unforgettable. In the opening theme, you will listen to two drums (Al Foster and Bernard Purdie) giving the sign for the entrance of Wally Chambers harmonic and the other instruments. And we listen for 43 seconds to pure Blues. There are 43 seconds in which Miles Davis does not appear, giving the entire space for the harmonic to make its southern United States typical speech.
When presented the trumpet, the first reaction is to question what kind of instrument is this, such is the surprise. The harmonica is not asked to leave, but it goes into the background, and never changes its blues speech. The remaining instruments will continue to engage the latter instrument with their rhythm and melody of jazz.
At the beginning of his entry, we notice that Davis seeks out to set the tone of what he will speak, which leads us to think that this may become a structured discourse, but we soon see that we were wrong. At 1:26, he starts to shout to the heavens like a wolf howls to the moon. It’s like he’s having an urgency to release a psychedelic scream against the organized speech that is around him.
From that moment on, we feel that he seeks to say short sentences, not like a drunk jumping from incomplete sentences to another also incomplete sentences. But because these short sentences are sufficient to signal his mood swings and his authority in front of the combo.
At 1:44, he changes the accentuation of the trumpet, and sometimes repeats what sounds like a whimper. Right after the 1:59, he releases again his psychedelic scream 3 times, followed by a loose phrase, to then shout his trumpet over 20 times. It’s psychedelic madness ressurfacing.
And the amazing thing is that we are addicted to those screams, such is the energy released that we realize that we are also already screaming to keep up with him. By this time, the body is already an hostage and needs to dance, jump, or do anything but being quiet.
Only at around 2:33 we feel that the remaining instruments have space to stand out, and then getting ready for the return of the trumpet at 2:47, for another session mood swing. These variations last until 3:14, in which the harmonic enters first, and a little later the other instruments enter a question answer dialogue with the trumpet. And it is with this dialogue that we are invited to listen to the end of the song.
Finally, I leave a small personal note. For me, “Red China Blues” is the best song ever to do a striptease. Puts in a corner “You Can Leave Your Hat On“, composed by Randy Newman, and made famous by Joe Cocker through the film “9 ½ Weeks”, or the now classic “The Stripper“, by David Rose and his Orchestra.
Try doing a striptease with “Red China Blues” and will notice the difference immediately. Already some women saw my home show and they were all surprised. No one imagines doing a striptease with a psychedelic sound, but I assure you the joy is tremendous. Try dancing with the sound of your speakers as loud as possible.
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