One of Miles Davis' best-selling albums has been reissued 25 years later. Graham Reid looks at its contentious back-story.
Miles Davis' Tutu album was created after he left CBS Records in the mid-80s and collaborated with Marcus Miller. It became one of his best-selling albums.Maybe George Butler, head honcho at CBS Records - as Sony used to be - regretted making that call to Miles Davis. Then again, maybe he didn't.
When Butler rang Davis in the mid-80s and suggested he phone their hot new signing, jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, to wish him happy birthday, Davis was furious. CBS had delayed releasing his Time After Time album and wouldn't pay for a tribute album, so Davis had dug into his own money from an endowment ... and now this insult. Ring the guy who was replicating Davis' former style and saying derogatory things about his new music?
So Davis quit his record company of 30 years - to whom he had delivered milestones such as Porgy and Bess (in 1958), Kind of Blue (59), Sketches of Spain (60), In a Silent Way (69) and Bitches Brew (70) - and moved on.
In truth though, Butler may not have been unhappy to see him go. Davis' street-funk and rock-influenced albums - On the Corner, Get Up With It, Star People, You're Under Arrest - and his most recent live set We Want Miles hadn't set useful sales figures. They'd also alienated his jazz following without bringing in the funk and rock crowd.
And Davis was never easy. He'd been scathing about Marsalis, plagued with drug problems again and at any opportunity would point out racism he saw in the music industry. Which might be why his first album for his new company Warners was Tutu, named for Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. And why he headed in another new direction.
It was the synth-splattered 80s and Davis had been keen to work with Prince. But, as with his plan to record with Hendrix, things fell through so he hooked up with bassist/multi-instrumentalist Marcus Miller who'd spent much of his career as a sideman (briefly with Davis), session player and arranger.
Miller was the guiding hand behind Tutu. Of the eight tracks he wrote all but two (one a co-write with Davis) - the others were George Duke's Backyard Ritual and Scritti Politti's Perfect Way - and co-produced it with Tommy LiPuma (who'd signed Davis to Warners with some trepidation).
Miller also handled most of the synths, sequencers and drum machines which gave a staccato feel to the R&B funk. When Tutu was released many savaged it, saying Davis had been hijacked by Miller. As if Davis could be made to do anything he didn't want to do.
Tutu stands as a late career-high for Davis who played tight and pointed solos throughout, never flashy and always working within the service of beats and grooves.
Tutu is now re-presented in a remastered 25th anniversary edition with an extra disc of a concert in Nice that year with a brittle funk-rock band stretching out on older material (Jack Johnson), pieces from Tutu (Portia, Splatch) and contemporary pop hits Human Nature (Michael Jackson) and Time After Time (Cyndi Lauper). That disc might be a sky-scaling solo too far for jazz purists.
Open ears at the time accepted Tutu as a new direction, and some early critics warmed to it over time. Within a year it was hailed as Davis' comeback, and scored him another Grammy for best jazz instrumental performance. It also became one of Davis' biggest selling albums.
You wonder if he called George over at CBS to tell him.
Verdict: The most controversial album of the trumpeter's career gets a 25th anniversary reissue