Merci Miles! Live at Vienne

Jun 29, 2021
Web Exclusive

By Dustin Krcatovich

There will never be a motherfucker cooler than Miles Davis, full stop. Not Prince, not Lou Reed, not George Clinton, not whoever else you want to bring up (honestly, they’re lesser than anyone else I just listed, much less Miles… sorry, I didn’t make the rules). No matter what you may think about the myriad tangents he embarked upon in his career, how he treated lovers and collaborators, or how dumb the ending of that Don Cheadle biopic was, Miles is the eternal emperor of cool and everyone knows it. Hell, the one funny joke in Billy Madison was about just that.

Merci Miles!, a live recording of a concert in France recorded only a couple months before Davis died in 1991, isn’t Miles at his coolest, but he’s still a damn sight cooler than you or I. By this point, he was incorporating ’80s-style R&B and covering pop hits with plonky slap bass and a heavy synth sheen. Spiritually, it was still in line with anything else he ever did (that is to say, whatever he damn well pleased), but this period has languished in many a fan’s mind as a career nadir.

Honestly, it may well be, but to paraphrase the aforementioned Lou Reed, Miles’ week beats your year. In this concert, what starts as a smooth, supermarket-friendly take on Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” turns into a rousing, 18+ minute workout with an explosive coda. A mortal might follow that up with one of their many beloved compositions, but instead, Davis pulls his band into Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.” That’s kind of perverse, but it’s also a testament to how adept Davis was at stretching and bending popular forms to his own will, on his own terms.

Two other cuts, “Penetration” and “Jailbait,” were composed just for Davis by another pop giant of the day, the also aforementioned Prince. That these two had developed a mutual admiration in the last few years of Davis’ life is no surprise, and these tracks sound exactly like Prince writing for Miles Davis, which is a plenty fine thing. It would have been even better, of course, if the Purple One was guesting on guitar or keys here, but better not to dwell on what could’ve been.

Time has smiled on these recordings and the period from whence they came, but it must be acknowledged that this is a far cry from Davis’ gnarled take on funk-fortified Social Music throughout the ’70s. It’s sleeker and deeper in the pocket, but also safer. But like any of Davis’ music, there’s a lot more to take in than the surface trappings, and even with those potentially hokey trappings, it’s ice cold because… well, it’s Miles Davis. (

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