Davis was 47 years old when he was asked to play Carnegie Hall in 1974, which followed four years of relentless touring. He had played the venue numerous times before and recorded a live album there in 1961. By 1974, Davis had been dealing with depression, cocaine and sex addictions, and several health problems, including osteoarthritis, bursitis, and sickle-cell anemia. He had also lost respect with both critics and his contemporaries because of his musical explorations into more rockand funk-oriented sounds. Influenced by Karlheinz Stockhausen, Davis wanted to avoid individual songs and instead record extended movements that developed into a different composition. He played his trumpet sparsely and became less of the focal point for his band, whom he allowed more freedom to improvise and with whom he rarely rehearsed, so that the young musicians he enlisted would be tested to learn and play together onstage.
In 1935, the political climate in Italy (under Mussolini) became unacceptable to Escher. He had no interest in politics, finding it impossible to involve himself with any ideals other than the expressions of his own concepts through his own particular medium, but he was averse to fanaticism and hypocrisy.
Music journalist Erik Davis compared Davis’ trumpet sound to “a mournful but pissed-off banshee“, and Cosey, Lucas, and Gaumont to “somewhere between and beyond James Brown and Can“, amid “quiet percussion passages [that] emerge like moonlit clearings”.
In his early years, Escher sketched landscapes and nature. He also sketched insects, which appeared frequently in his later work. His first artistic work, completed in 1922, featured eight human heads divided in different planes. Later around 1924, he lost interest in “regular division” of planes, and turned to sketching landscapes in Italy with irregular perspectives that are impossible in natural form.
In a retrospective review for JazzTimes, Tom Terrell said that the album’s kind of music would never be heard again and described it as “tomorrow’s sound yesterday … a terrifyingly exhilarating aural asylum of wails, howls, clanks, chanks, telltale heartbeats, wah wah quacks, white noise and loud silences.” According to Down Beat, the frantic burbles of congas on “Moja” and “Tatu” predated oldschool jungle by 20 years, while Spin magazine’s Erik Davis found its anguished, ferocious music extremely impressive, especially when listened to loud. He contended that the group improvisation on tracks such as “Wili” foreshadowed the drum ‘n’ bass genre: “Miles was invoking the primordial powers of the electronic urban jungle”.
Around 1956, Escher explored the concept of representing infinity on a two-dimensional plane. Discussions with Canadian mathematician H.S.M. Coxeter inspired Escher’s interest in hyperbolic tessellations, which are regular tilings of the hyperbolic plane. Escher’s wood engravings Circle Limit I–IV demonstrate this concept. In 1959, Coxeter published his finding that these works were extraordinarily accurate: “Escher got it absolutely right to the millimeter.”
Miles Davis – Wili (Part 1)
from Dark Magus, recorded on March 30, 1974, at Carnegie Hall in New York City
Image: Encounter, M.C. Escher, lithograph on wove paper, May 1944. Source. See Symmetry Work 63 here.
In the background, on a gray wall, these human figures increase their mutual contrast toward the center. One white and one black representative of each kind detach themselves from the wall surface and walk into space, carefully avoiding a tumble into the circular hole in the floor. Thus going round, they can’t help meeting in the foreground. During the whole way, up to the end, the black pessimist keeps his finger raised in a gesture of warning, but the white optimist cheerfully comes to his encounter, and so they finally shake hands.
From “The Regular Division of the Plane”, one of the lectures that were never given by M.C. Escher, 1964.
Escher on Escher: Exploring the Infinite, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., NY, 1989.