Miles Davis’ Forgotten Electro “ON THE CORNER”!

Text by Rob Pulwer

Maybe it’s only fitting that one of the most influential musicians of all time had a hand in the creation of electronic music, even though it was nowhere near his scene. The oeuvre of Miles Davis is, yet, still cherished predominantly by hard bop fiends and fusion fans. Although he spent the majority of his career playing variations of those styles, there is one record that stands out from the rest of his catalogue by virtue of its mission, accomplishments, and subsequent oblivion from accolade and popular memory: On the Corner.

The record, released in 1972, was Davis’ attempt to lure young, African-American city dwellers back to the jazz they had forsaken for other genres (among which was the funk that his own fusion escapades helped to engender). Although the record features a variety of canonical jazz musicians (Jack Dejohnette, Chick Corea, and Herbie Hancock, among others), much of the music is anchored by rhythms very similar to today’s drum-n-bass. Davis and his producers, themselves innovators in electronic music, experimented with looping and splicing tracks, making OTC one of the first records to prominently feature these now-widespread audio manipulation techniques. Interestingly, Davis himself is only sparingly on the record, and then mostly as background noise.

Electro friends probably opt to stay away from Miles Davis’ music just as much as his followers tend to shy away from the electro scene. Unfortunately, OTC has been tucked away into the back of Davis’ catalogue, garnering little play and even less discussion as to its place in the jazz canon. It is fair to say that this record has had minimal impact on jazz, at least compared to Davis’ other records. I see that comparison as problematic in and of itself; this record shouldn’t be talked about as jazz or by jazz people. Electro fans owe it to themselves to check out this precursor to any and all of their favorite bands, even if it bears the name of that guy their high school band director was always harping on; this is, simply, one of the first, and thus by extension, one of the most important, accessible electronic music records ever made.