In jazz circles, You’re Under Arrest has gained instant notoriety as the album on which Miles Davis plays, among other things, tunes associated with D Train, Cyndi Lauper and Michael Jackson. The Jackson hit “Human Nature” is little more than glorified filler, but D Train’s “Something’s on Your Mind” is the album’s most spirited track, and Lauper’s “Time after Time,” with its pellucid melody and mournful harmonic suspensions, proves to be a surprisingly effective vehicle for the great jazz trumpeter, who, come to think of it, has long nurtured an affinity for slow-motion ballads of just this sort. Yet, unlike Davis’ classic show-tune interpretations of past decades, which begged comparison to nothing save one another, “Time after Time” is essentially a jazz instrumental cover of a recent pop vocal smash — Cyndi Lauper, not Miles Davis, supplies the context, and it’s ominous to realize that the most cocksure of jazz musicians no longer feels he is in a position to call his own tune, at least not when radio programmers might be listening.
You’re Under Arrest‘s original material (by Davis, guitarist John Scofield and synthesizer player Robert Irving III) also tilts in the direction of pop — more specifically, what the trade papers call urban contemporary — with reinforced guitar and synthesizer licks, which suggest that Miles, like the rest of us, has been listening closely to Purple Rain. It’s tempting to dub this music postfusion: while it might seem like a further permutation of the jazz-rock synthesis Miles presaged with Bitches Brew, it’s slinkier, brighter and infinitely more enticing; only “Katie,” with its keynote John McLaughlin guitar flash, echoes the murk and tumult of Davis’ mid-Seventies concert LPs and last year’s wretched Decoy. There are any number of attractive melodies here — most notably Davis and Irving’s hooky “Ms. Morrisine” — and Davis plays superbly. Still, although his solos wound deeply, their pensive melancholy is frequently out of whack with the orgiastic bumping on the rhythm tracks, and the contrast is jarring in ways that hardly seem intentional. This is probably good dance music, but it isn’t likely to get you up on your feet and dancing.
Poor Miles. As a thinking man’s pop star, he’s unbankable in a market that increasingly depends on conditioned reflex. As a jazz blue blood, he’s been trading on credit for far too long. To judge from the cover photograph, what with his embroidered jacket and leather trousers, even his fashion sense has deserted him: in jazz, smart Italian suits are back in, thanks to Davis’ anointed heir and label mate, Wynton Marsalis. It’s easy enough to say that music is music and categories don’t count — the familiar line of Miles’ apologists — but it’s difficult to imagine a jazz or pop audience being completely satisfied with You’re Under Arrest, modestly diverting though it is.