Almost thirty-three years ago, Miles Davis entered a recording studio in North Hollywood and began working on an album that would mark a new and radical musical direction for the jazz trumpeter. But for various reasons, the album Miles worked on for over three months never appeared. Now, on 21 April 2018, some of the music from those sessions is being released in a limited edition EP for Record Store Day.
The album Miles recorded, Rubberband, is often known as “The Lost Miles Davis album” and fascinates many Miles aficionados, in the same way that The Beatles’ unreleased “Carnival of Light” has been sought after by fans of the Fab Four. The story of the Rubberband album is a mix of music, business and politics, and starts in the summer of 1985, when Miles left Columbia Records for Warner Bros. ending a thirty-year association with his old record label.
Warner Bros. then head of jazz, Tommy Lipuma, was given the role of supervising Miles and helping him settle into his new label. LiPuma was a Grammy award-winning producer, who had worked with jazz artists such as George Benson, Al Jarreau, Phil Upchurch and The Yellow Jackets, but despite his impressive track record, LiPuma was initially happy to let Miles plough his own musical furrow.
Miles contacted many people for material for his new album, including, Bill Laswell, Paul Buckmaster, George Duke and Toto’s Steve Porcaro (Miles had covered Porcaro’s “Human Nature” on his You’re Under Arrest album). Prince sent Miles a track for consideration. In most cases, very little came of the planned collaboration. Another person Miles contacted was the singer/guitarist Randy Hall.
Hall and Miles went back a long way. Hall hails from Chicago and was a childhood friend of Miles’ nephew, drummer Vince Wilburn Jr. During their teens and early twenties, Hall and Wilburn Jr played together in various bands around Chicago. One of them was AL7. In 1980 – during the time when Miles stopped touring and recording and spent much of the time holed inside his New York home – Miles heard a track by AL7 called “Space” and invited the band to join him in New York to record it. Four members of AL7 flew from Chicago to New York – Hall, Wilburn Jr, keyboardist Robert Irving III and bassist Felton Crews.
The project expanded and the young band recorded around a dozen tracks. Miles considered releasing a new album with all songs written by the young band, but his 1981 comeback album, The Man With The Horn, would include only two of their songs: a disco-funk track “Shout,” and a ballad “The Man With The Horn.” The latter featured Hall on vocals and proved controversial, as some jazz fans felt it was the wrong direction for Miles to take. But Miles clearly loved the music and the young band inspired him to pick up his horn again and start recording and touring again. Miles never played “The Man With The Horn” live, but in 1994, Hall sang the song at a concert in Germany with a band featuring several other Miles’ alumni www.youtube.com/watch?v=7b3acm1KW5I
Hall and Miles kept in touch over the years and would occasionally write songs together (one of them, “(Let Me Be Your) Decoy” was written for The Rolling Stones. The song was never recorded, but Miles used part of the title for his 1984 album Decoy.)
Hall’s talent grabbed the attention of producer/artist/session player Ray Parker Jr, as Parker Jr recalls, “Randy Hall was a talented guy. When he came from Chicago, he gave me a demo tape with about twenty songs and I loved all of them. I thought the lyrics and stuff were incredible. We got him a record deal on MCA.”
Parker Jr produced Hall’s first album, I Belong To You, released in 1984. The following year, Hall was recording his follow-up album, Love You Like A Stranger at Ameraycan Studios, Ray Parker Jr’s studio in North Hollywood. During the sessions, Miles called Hall and asked him to produce his next album. Hall immediately agreed and asked musician Attala Zane Giles (who was working with Hall on Love You Like A Stranger) to co-produce the album with him. Miles explained to the young producers that he wanted to take a new musical direction – he wanted the sound of the street; he wanted music with a rougher edge and he wanted to explore a diverse range of styles.
The album Hall and Giles produced for Miles was certainly diverse, including funk, Latin and Caribbean tracks, and there were plans to have Chaka Khan and Al Jarreau sing on the album too. There was also a ballad and an ambient-like track, “See I See.” The first session was on 17 October 1985, when the title track, “Rubberband” was recorded (featuring some blistering guitar from Mike Stern, who was then a member of Miles’ band). Miles evidently liked this funk track a lot, because within two weeks, he was playing it live. Miles and Stern can be seen playing “Rubberband” in Berlin on 1 November 1985 here: (10 minutes in)
A number of musicians joined Miles, Hall and Giles (who played guitar, bass and keyboards) on the Rubberband album including, keyboardists Wayne Linsey, Neil Larsen and Adam Holzman (Holzman would join Miles’ band soon after); saxophonists Glenn Burris and Michael Paulo; bassists Felton Crews and Cornelius Mims; percussionist Steve Reid and Wilburn Jr on drums. The engineer was Reggie Dozier, brother of songwriter Lamont Dozier. Those at the sessions state that Miles was happy and spent a lot of his spare time sketching. The Rubberband sessions ended in January 1986 and Miles, Hall and Giles felt they had an album that was almost ready to go. But there was one obstacle in the way – Tommy LiPuma. LiPuma didn’t like what he heard, “I didn’t hear anything,” he said, “to me, it didn’t sound like nothing was going on.” The rough, edgy, street sound of Rubberband was a world away from the sleek, polished productions LiPuma was famed for, so it’s probably no surprise that he was underwhelmed by the results.
In early 1986, bassist/producer Marcus Miller and programmer Jason Miles began working on music for Miles’ first Warner Bros. album. The result was Tutu, a critically acclaimed and commercially successful album that took Miles in a very different direction from Rubberband, with its sleek, synthesised soundscapes. The decision to drop Rubberband shocked Hall and Giles, who felt that LiPuma wanted greater control over Miles. “The music industry is political,” says Hall, “people will smile in your face while they stab you in the back.” Parker Jr says, “I’m not surprised when record companies do anything! They do some crazy things!”
The Rubberband tapes sat in Warner Bros.’ vaults for the next five years, but the public got to hear some of the music, because a number of tunes from the Rubberband sessions featured in Miles’ live repertoire over the years: “Rubberband,” “Wrinkle,” “Carnival” and “Al Jarreau.” (this is an instrumental version of a song called “I Love What We Make Together,” which Al Jarreau was meant to sing on). When Miles died during the making of the Doo-Bop album, trumpet tracks from the Rubberband sessions were used to complete two tunes, “Fantasy” and “High Speed Chase.”
In 2001, Warner Bros planned to release a Miles Davis anthology, The Last Word, that would include two numbers from the Rubberband sessions, the title track and “See I See,” but the project was abandoned. It wasn’t until Warner UK released the 2010 anthology Perfect Way, that the title track, “Rubberband” was officially released. The following year, Warner France released a five-disc anthology featuring “Rubberband” and “See I See.”The release of the Rubberband tracks is a result of Miles’ Estate – Miles’s daughter Cheryl, Miles son Erin and Vince Wilburn Jr pushing to get the music released. In late 2017, Hall, Giles and Wilburn Jr dusted down the Rubberband tapes, and with singer Ledisi, produced updated versions of “Rubberband” for a limited edition EP. They also made a remixed version of the original “Rubberband” track (with additional jazzy guitar licks played by Hall, as well as some extra percussion), which is on the EP too. Plans are in hand to finally release the complete Rubberband album before the end of the year. The album will feature both remixed versions and original tracks from the Rubberband sessions. When Rubberband finally arrives, we’ll all get to hear that elusive Lost Miles Davis album.
Warner Music Group/Rhino to release the 12” Vinyl 4-track EP on Record Store Day 2018 More information on the Rubberband album can be found in George Cole’s book The Last Miles www.thelastmiles.com