It would have been inconceivable for Miles Davis in his post-sabbatical, 1980s reincarnation to have been billed as "an extra added attraction" on any festival or concert hall billing, but that's how it was when the trumpeteralready a legendplayed his first ever gigs at the Filmore East, supporting Neil Young
& Crazy Horse and the Steve Miller Band in March 1970. The initiative to stage Davis at the hallowed rock venue came from CBS President Clive Davis, no doubt with an eye to matching the enormous sales enjoyed by guitarist Carlos Santana
in the aftermath of Woodstock.
Davis certainly wasn't averse to reaching a much wider audience, as his appearance a month later opening for the Grateful Dead
at the Filmore West and then in August that year at the Isle of Wight Festivalwhich drew over 600,000 peopleattested. Miles at The Filmore...
sees the release, for the first time, of the complete performances of Davis' electric band over four nights from the June 17-20, 1970, when the trumpeter's septet opened up for label-mate, singer-songwriter Laura Nyro.
For Davis fans of long-standing, this release will come as a welcome replacement to the Columbia vinyl release of 1970 and the label's 1997 CD release, both of which weighed in at around half the actual performance time. For example, the edited version of "Directions" from June 17 lasts just two and a half minutes on both the vinyl and first CD release, compared to the full ten and a half minutes released here. In all, over a hundred extra minutes of adrenaline-pumping and loud
music are released for the first time.
This monster line-up was one of the most exciting of Davis' career: Keith Jarrett on organ and Chick Corea on electric piano simmer and burn throughout and are pivotal in firing Davis' imagination, particularly on "Directions," the incendiary show opener for each of the four nights. Jarrett had just joined Davis and his playing ranges from subliminal dabs here and there to ferocious attacksas on the slow-burning, dark blues of "The Mask"that would give ELP's Keith Emerson a run for his money.
Bassist Dave Holland
plays a pivotal anchor role amid such sonic hedonism and thankfully he comes across extremely clearly in the mix. Drummer Jack DeJohnette
's biting funk grooves and blistering fills are exhilarating, while percussionist Airto Moreira
is tirelessly resourceful. The Brazilian's energy infuses everything the band does, and of particular note is his barking pandeiro call-and-response with Jarrett and Corea on June 17's version of "Directions." Saxophonist Steve Grossman
, who aged just nineteen, had the unenviable task of replacing Wayne Shorter
, enjoys plenty of freedomhis soprano solo on "It's About That Time" being a nightly highlight.
As for Davis, he's at the peak of his powers and this band clearly inspired him to some of his most impassioned playing in what was one of his most productive and creative periods. The trumpeter's strength in the higher registers, demonstrated night after night on the brooding jazz-rock anthem "Bitches Brew," draws favorable comparison to his mentor Dizzy Gillespie
Yet, despite the chops fest, the psychadelia and heady grooves, there's one extremely intimate gem on the third and fourth nights of the band's Filmore East run; Davis' gently rasping lyricism on the Sammy Cahn/Julie Styne number "I Fall in Love Too Easily"a hit for Frank Sinatra in 1945serves as a brief intro to the Shorter tune "Sanctuary" but is also a reminder of the trumpeter's rarefied balladry. The other surprise in the collection is the inclusion on the second night of "Spanish Key;" it's a rare encore from Davis and a powerful one, with Grossman, then Jarrett and Corea in tandem, unleashing pretty wild improvisations.
Three previously unreleased bonus tracks from the April 11 concert at the Filmore West, "Paraphernalia" and "Footprints" (CD1), and "Miles Runs The Voodoo Down" (CD2) add an extra thirty five minutes of music and pad out the shorter first two nights of the four-night June run.
The superb packaging includes a 30-page booklet with an extended essay by producer Michael Cuscuna. A leading figure in the repackage/reissue industry, Cuscuna provides some insight into the socially and politically volatile period when jazz fused with rock, funk and electric blues. Mainly, however, his essay recreates the scene at the Filmores East and West, describes Davis' move to these revered rock venues and highlights the roles of Columbia President Clive Davis and the Filmores' Bill Graham in making it happen.
In addition, a black-and-white poster of Davis in iconic live pose comes with feature articles on the reverse side from Rolling Stone, The Village Voice and Newsweek. Taken together, these articles give a flavor of the divisive nature of Davis' music at the timeDavis fell out with Nat Hentoff
over a negative review of Bitches Brew
(Columbia, 1970)and most significantly, the artist's obvious enthusiasm for the new musical direction he was pursuing in his own, inimitable style.
In a similar way that saxophonist John Coltrane
's latter works have been divisiveand largely escaped serious critical appraisalDavis' first electric period still divides his followers in two extreme camps, despite the music's ongoing influence around the world. Miles at The Filmore...
is a powerful entry point for those wondering what all the fuss was/is about and a wonderful collector's item for the devotees. The release is also an opportunity for the naysayers to reassess music made in 1970, which for pure visceral power and virtuosity was unmatched at the time, and that frankly, has few peers today.
Personnel: Miles Davis: trumpet; Steve Grossman: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Chick Corea: electric piano; Keith Jarrett: organ, tambourine; Dave Holland: bass; Jack DeJohnette: drums; Airto Moreira: percussion, flute, voice.