There are those dedicated to denigrating Miles Davis’ electric period in general and his post-furlough recordings from the 1980s in particular. Although in the case of one critic one suspects the motives for this are for the purposes of self-aggrandisement and some form of critical recognition (which has worked quite successfully), even a cursory listening of his 1969-1975 recordings is sufficient to make such claims appear nonsense. Davis’ 1980s output, uneven though it was, can provide a fig leaf of respectability to defend the impossible, but when we come to his last two Columbia albums (You’re Under Arrest, Aura), these claims appear shaky at best and when it comes to Tutu we have a bona fide Davis classic and an album that numbers among the best jazz recordings of the last 25 years, those claims become rank nonsense. A tribute to Bishop Desmond Tutu (the track ‘Full Nelson’ is a tribute to Nelson Mandela), it won two Grammy Awards and perhaps more than any other album of the period, rejuvenated his career.
The album began life with the working title ‘Perfect Way’ after a Scritti Politti tune of the same name, and much credit for the writing, conception and production goes to bassist and multi-instrumentalist Marcus Miller. When the track ‘Tutu’ was completed, Davis dropped his trumpet part in needing only two takes and the visceral impact the music makes made this a no-brainer for the title track. While the album does not completely live up to the promise of its attention-getting opening, it somehow does not matter. Here is Davis redefining himself yet again, and the music still remains fresh and vital today. Tutu is supported in this deluxe release package by a second CD of a previously unreleased live concert from the July 1986 Nice Jazz Festival. Although only two tunes from Tutu appear in the set list (‘Portia’, ‘Splatch’), it is because the focus of the band’s live performances during this period were two memorable covers from You’re Under Arrest – ‘Human Nature’ and ‘Time After Time’ which had begun to define the band live. Twenty-five years on they are enough to evoke powerful memories of Davis in live performance during this period, when to attend one of his concerts was to drink in the aura of perhaps the greatest legend of jazz during his own lifetime.