In September of 1986, Miles Davis released Tutu, his first album for Warner Bros. after three decades as a Columbia artist. But what fans of the late trumpeter didn’t know at the time was that he had originally started recording an entirely different LP for the label. Begun in 1985 and eventually shelved before it was complete, that album — Rubberband — will finally come out on September 6th, following a preview EP that came out on Record Store Day 2018.
Original producers Randy Hall and Zane Giles finished the project along with Davis’ nephew and collaborator Vince Wilburn Jr., and guest stars including vocalists Ledisi and Lalah Hathaway. Another singer, Medina Johnson, turns up on “Paradise,” a newly released track from the record.
“If you don’t mind, we’d like to play something for you,” Davis says in a vocal sample taken from “Concert on the Runway,” a track from his and Michel Legrand’s soundtrack to the 1992 film Dingo. A brief intro featuring percussion and acoustic guitar leads into a thumping, Caribbean-influenced groove, with Davis’ reverb-y trumpet lines and festive steel drums playing over top. “Come on, take a trip to paradise/Where dreams are just beyond the sea,” Johnson sings, enhancing the track’s breezy feel. “Come on take a chance, don’t pay the price/This is where you wanna be.”
Midway through the song, Davis’ trumpet takes center stage, blowing full, impassioned lines, complemented by funky electric guitar. His colorful soloing intensifies as the track winds down. The track also features a flute solo from Michael Paulo, an acoustic-guitar solo from co-producer Hall, and contributions from veteran percussionists King Errisson and Munyungo Jackson.
“The track was dated. We wanted to give it a more carnival-like atmosphere,” Wilburn tells Rolling Stone in an email of what inspired the newly completed version of “Carnival.” “That’s why we reconstructed it with heavy percussion, bringing in the legendary King Errisson and session ace Munyungo Jackson (Stevie Wonder, Miles Electric Band).”
According to Wilburn, the original Rubberband album was shelved when Warner Bros.’ Tommy LiPuma “felt Miles should go in another direction,” paving the way for the Tutu album, a collaboration with bassist-producer Marcus Miller.
In revisiting the material, Wilburn, Hall, and Zanes tried to stay true to Davis’ mindset in the mid-Eighties.
“What people may not know is Uncle Miles was digging MTV during the Eighties,” Wilburn tells RS. “When he saw a group he dug, he turned up the volume, then called the artist’s label to send music over.
“That’s how his cover of Scritti Politi’s ‘A Perfect Way’ came about. He also dug Mr. Mister and recorded an unreleased version of ‘Broken Wings’ and also covered Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Time After Time’ and Michael Jackson’s ‘Human Nature.’
“He recorded with Prince, Toto, and Cameo,” Wilburn adds. “He dug the sound of the Eighties and he used that vibe for the Rubberband sessions.”
Wilburn is confident that Davis would have relished the newly finished Rubberband album.
“He would have loved it. I think he would have been proud of the evolution,” he says. “We tried to keep it in the vein of the Eighties, sprinkling in spices and rhythms, while keeping Miles’ stamp on it. He was all about evolution. I think he would have dug the progression of the music.”
Miles Davis Rubberband Track List
1. “Rubberband of Life” (Feat. Ledisi)
2. “This Is It”
4. “So Emotional” (Feat. Lalah Hathaway)
5. “Give It Up”
7. “Carnival Time”
8. “I Love What We Made Together”
9. “See I See”
10. “Echoes in Time / The Wrinkle”