Big Fun

Miles Davis, 1974

As numerous, archival boxsets have shown us, Miles electric period in the late-60s / early-70s, was masterwork of editing, as much as playing. The tracks heard on his albums are filled with fleeting moments from different components—jammed extensively, then stripped for parts. A process that left the cutting room floor knee-deep. While Miles retreated from view in the mid-70s, Columbia Records made good use of those scraps.

Which is a long way of saying that Big Fun, at its core, is a crass cash-in of leftovers. Of course, let’s keep in mind: these are the leftovers of some of the best players in jazz, or about ever. These bits and pieces are given a rough cut-n-paste treatment, showcasing a cut-n-paste feel that was radical in their day, and endearing now.

Perversely, even knowing this qualifier, Big Fun remains my favorite electric Miles LP. It’s four, sidelong workouts are atmospheric, like a funked up In a Silent Way. Given the extended length of each track, these are also some of Davis’ and Maceo’s most minimal constructions. Each track is built around small motifs, worried endlessly, and arranged cyclically.

I’m struck by side three, Go Ahead, John. As the title implies, it’s a vehicle for guitarist John McLaughlin, but it’s beat kills me. They collaged multiple takes, making hard drops that leap across the stereo field. I wouldn’t be surprised to discover Go Ahead was in fact a cornerstone influence in drum-n-bass’ development. That sonic comparison would put Miles & Co. about 20 years ahead-of-the-game on that one.