Miles Davis: A Tribute to Jack Johnson

Miles Davis: A Tribute to Jack Johnson

Mobile Fidelity  UDSACD 2150

Stereo Hybrid


Miles Davis

Miles Davis’ A Tribune to Jack Johnson is the best jazz-record ever made. Equally inspired by the leader’s desire to assemble the “greatest rock and roll band you have ever heard” as well as his adoration of Johnson, Davis created a hard-hitting set that spills over with excitement, intensity, majesty, and power. Bridging the electric fusion he’d pursued on earlier efforts with a funkier, dirtier rhythmic approach, Davis zeroes in on concepts of spontaneity, freedom, and identity seldom achieved in the studio. Mobile Fidelity’s sterling reissue brings it all to fore with unsurpassed realism.

Mastered from the original master tapes, this collectable audiophile version of A Tribute to Jack Johnson joins the ranks of eleven other essential Davis sets given supreme sonic and packaging treatment by Mobile Fidelity. The most prominent difference longtime fans will notice is how much more aggressive and immediate the music sounds, aspects central to the composer’s desires. Amazing degrees of instrumental separation and imaging allow you to focus on singular musicians and the roles they play.

Indeed, utilizing wah-wah and distortion, guitarist John McLaughlin comes on here with a nasty edge, slashing style, and vicious streak that allows A Tribute to Jack Johnson finally cross the divide between rock and jazz. Davis puts both feet in the former camp and permanently erasing any gap. In addition to highlighting McLaughlin’s ripping performances, Mobile Fidelity’s SACD showcases the headliner’s white-hot trumpet solos like never before. Bristling with exuberance, Davis’ high-register passages explode with authority and commanding presence. Around him, a barrage of urgent backbeats, knifing riffs, and three-dimension bass lines emerge amidst an ink-black background.

The least-well known true masterpiece of Davis’ career, the 1971 record—like Bitches Brew, seamlessly assembled from sessions by producer Ted Macero—was a victim of scant promotion. But to those that heard it, among them critic/musician Robert Quine and renowned writer Robert Christgau, A Tribute to Jack Johnson surpasses everything that came before. Davis treated it as a personal manifesto: An opportunity to salute the championship boxer admired for his threatening image to the establishment and taste in clothes, cars, women and music. Davis explains in the liner notes his affinity for Johnson—a stance revealed in the music, which simultaneously hits with a prize fighter’s brutal force and reflects the graceful elegance with which a pugilist navigates the ring.

Producer and journalist Michael Cuscuna may have summed up the record’s significance in 2003: “The dense textures introduced and developed the prior fall on the Bitches Brew recording sessions gave way to a lean, stripped-down, guitar-heavy sound. There was now only one drummer, and that kept the groove more pronounced and defined. The three-keyboard configuration appears only on the last session; the rest have none, one, or two, and they are used sparingly.”

By any measure, A Tribute to Jack Johnson is a monster album. Experience it the way Davis would’ve wanted you to hear it.

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4 of 4 recommend this, would you recommend it?  yes | no

1. Right Off
2. Yesternow
Comments (4)

Comment by Mark Powers - January 15, 2017 (1 of 4)

This has now been released. I received my copy from Acoustic Sounds on 1/13/17. A very good Miles Davis performance with Billy Cobham.

Comment by GregM - January 20, 2017 (2 of 4)

The content is well known, but how does the MFSL compare to the earlier JSACD version? This comparison would be useful.

Comment by Downunderman - March 5, 2018 (3 of 4)

Well GregM I cannot give you a comparison beyond general observations around the respective sonic character of the Miles Davis titles (JSACD/Mofi)in the titles from this period.

I have listened to other JSACD Miles titles from this period, but not this one.

For want of a better word the Mofi Davis titles sound more natural (but still highly detailed)than the JSACD efforts which sound more clinical in presentation. As is generally the Japanese mastering style.

For source tapes that are a bit ropey the Japanese mastering style can be a net positive, but when the source tapes are in very good condition AND very well recorded (as these are) in the first place then it tends to be a net negative.

There is also the fact that Mofi had actual physical access to the master tapes. I'm not sure this would have been the case for the JSACD's

This Mofi title has been mastered by Shawn Britton and a brilliant job has been done by him. listening to it makes you feel you are in the studio.

Comment by Mark Werlin - March 9, 2018 (4 of 4)

I'm in full agreement with Downunderman's comments.

Mobile Fidelity Miles Davis Columbia SACDs are sourced from either the original master tapes or the best available 1st generation copy. I have the MoFi A Tribute to Jack Johnson and the 2003 Sony box set "The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions". For the box set, Mark Wilder remixed the studio 8-channel tapes to recreate the original album sequence. The remixed and remastered "Right Off" and "Yesternow" are on Disc 5 of the set.

Excerpt from the liner notes (p. 118)

"This box set was mixed from the original 8-track 1" analog master tapes using DSD Technology [sic]. A DSD stereo mix and a 5.1 multi-channel mix were made simultaneously by mixing from the 8-track master directly in the Sony "Sonoma" system."

If Wilder's stereo DSD remix was the source of the JSACD, then the JSACD would sound better than, but very similar to, the stereo mix on the CD box set. But what happened to the 5.1 MCH mix? Perhaps the liner notes are in error. The JSACD (SME SRGS4504) is described as stereo single layer on its HRAudio page, and none of the user reviews on the old site mentions a MCH program (or rates the sound quality very highly).

The MoFi SACD has the virtues of the original LP mix and mastering, with none of the compromises needed in 1970 to get the music onto vinyl grooves. The box set gives a broad perspective on the period of time when Miles was using the recording studio as a sketchpad. Michael Henderson, and Sonny Sharrock especially, are well served by Mark Wilder's remix. But I reach for the MoFi SACD when I want to hear the original album sequence.