Rubberband does little to further enhance the legacy of the legendary musician.
When will we learn to leave well enough alone? Some things are better left unreleased and on the shelves where they’ve sat, undisturbed, for decades at a stretch. Despite receiving the blessing of the Miles Davis estate, Rubberband sounds very much unlike anything what the man would’ve wanted to see released then or now. It’s a bizarre mixture of new and old recordings sourced from the original scrapped album that sounds as innocuous and inconsequential as its title suggests.
Rubberband seeks to, several decades after it was originally recorded, bridge the gap between modern jazz, hip hop, funk and R&B, all genres that have variously borrowed from and influenced Davis. Reworked from the existing tapes by a handful of the individuals involved in the album’s original recording and assorted newcomers equally indebted to Davis’ work, Rubberband essentially “finishes” what Davis and company abortively began and shelved following a dismissive response from his then-new label, Warner Bros, in 1986. It’s strange to hear Davis’ horn (and spoken word asides scattered throughout) wending its way in and out of a decidedly far more modern sound than anything he would’ve been working on in the mid-‘80s. Anyone even remotely familiar with those recordings and their often flimsy production and heavily-dated instrumentation will immediately turn suspect when faced with Rubberband’s very 21st century sound and feel.
It’s hard to figure out exactly what the folks behind Rubberband – namely Davis’ nephew and drummer Vince Wilburn, Jr. who was party to the original sessions – were hoping to achieve here other than to put out still more product with the Miles Davis name attached. As an album, Rubberband does little to further enhance the legacy of the legendary musician. If anything, it sounds more like a “re-imagining” of what could’ve potentially been, with modern musicians working in and around existing Davis tracks; not quite sampling, but certainly not coming from the same creative headspace.
“Give It Up” is all spluttering funk, replete with unison horn stabs, funky bass lines and some of the more melodic playing of later-period Davis. Yet despite this, it can’t help but sound flat, not only when viewed within a modern context, but also within the whole of the Davis canon. The ‘80s weren’t exactly great to Davis as he struggled to find his place in a world of increasingly disposable pop idioms and rapidly changing tastes. Always attempting to push the world of jazz into new and different directions, his attempts to capture what Prince and company were up to largely feel more like jams or snatches of ideas waiting to become something more.
And while it could be argued he was approaching music in much the same manner circa On the Corner, there he at least had the decency to heavily edit the jams into something constantly compelling and highly engaging for the listener. Rubberband, with its after-the-fact arrangements and contemporary sound and feel manages to be anything but.
Which makes the period-specific tracks sound all the more confusing and out of place. “This is It” is as close as the album comes to aping the Minneapolis sound, coming off like a watered-down version of Prince with occasional bits of noodling here and there from Davis. It’s both directionless and far too derivative of its source material to be worth inclusion in the Davis catalog.
“Paradise,” with its Caribbean pastiche, fails miserably at capturing anything worthy of the Davis name, instead sounding like the soundtrack to your parents’ most recent cruise. Similarly, “So Emotional” leans a bit too heavily on modern smooth jazz tropes, becoming so light and airy it threatens to float away on the faintest of breezes. Meanwhile, “Maze” attempts a bit of menacing fusion/funk that, while occasionally compelling, more often than not sounds like Weather Report soundtracking Super Mario Bros.. And while that would certainly be an interesting pairing for some, here it just sounds dated.
Closing track “Rubberband Original” offers listeners the best guess as to what the sessions would’ve sounded like if completed in period. With its synth-heavy production and mindless beats, it, like the bulk of the album, is best left back in 1986. Rubberband is far from essential, though may still be somewhat of interest to die-hard Davis fans clamoring for every last bit of unreleased material still moldering away in the vaults. The rest of us can do without.