Miles Electric: A Different Kind of Blue

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Miles Davis
Electric Miles: A Different Kind of Blue
Eagle Eye Media

The 1970 Isle of Wight festival nearly doubled the attendance numbers of Woodstock, and boasted a similarly stellar lineup. Besides Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, and Joni Mitchell, Miles Davis brought a daring young group of explorers and strode out onstage to 600,000 listeners with one of his early electric ensembles. Concocting a roiling sonic stew, Miles led the band through a 39 minute improvisation with cues he flippantly titled, "Call It Anything. The soundtrack lived briefly on a vinyl Columbia anthology of festival performances. Now the historic few minutes may be viewed in a digital clear image showing some of the greats of late 20th century music suspiciously following Davis' lead, six months after Bitches Brew.

How do you pad a 39 minute performance on a 3 hr storage unit? Happily, here the answer comes as illuminating interviews with several late '60's, early '70's alumni of the electric bands, peeks and glimpses of various band versions in action, and insightful commentary from Carlos Santana. And several interviews with the Dark Magus himself from different time periods. The interview segments feature wonderful solo studio fragmentary performances, usually featuring the artist recreating signature melody lines originally created live. Both Hancock and Corea sit at the Fender Rhodes playing "So What and express their disdain when Miles asked them to play electric piano, only to find themselves hooked.

Stanley Crouch clearly wrestles with these recordings three decades after the fact. As one would expect, Carlos Santana delivers judicious appraisals. The influence of Betty Davis, Miles' wife of the time, receives exploration, including her role in introducing Miles to the music of Jimi Hendrix. Dave Leibman recreates some Miles' era soloing, and underlines the influence of boxing on Miles' musical approach. Mtume opens a window on the irrelevance of musical categories. Guitarist Pete Cosey gives a brief etymology of "jazz with footage of Willie the Lion Smith playing piano. His firecracker finger fretboard sizzles with funk still works. Dave Holland acknowledges Jack Bruce, and looks childlike in the concert footage. Jack DeJohnette talks groovology, Airto talks about trading riffs with Miles. Keith Jarrett discusses energetics and maintains Miles plays the history of jazz in the course of the set.

Remember, they were preceded by Tiny Tim. From the first notes, their seething cauldron boils over. Miles blisters the first several thousand people with Holland and DeJohnette churning out sick afro funk. The two keyboards find their way, and the look of intense listening that dominates Davis' face as he wanders the stage speaks volumes about him. A lowkey moment to regroup, has lines passed around keyboards and trumpet, until a new funky strut evolves from the rhythm section. Airto's artful use of spontaneous percussion effects color the already colorful sounds. Holland finds a slow "Bitches' Brew riff and Bartz blows warm and raw alto. When the band goes into its dense rhythm attack, Miles leads the charge with fire. Handing off to Jarrett, the keyboard continues whipping the frenzy until Davis returns with a more thoughtful approach that spirals upward. Hinting at "Sanctuary, Davis quickly plays a shred of "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down, the band locking into a strident riff. Bartz plays cool, but with DeJohnette shaking the stage behind him, he tears into it. Davis returns, the sun setting behind him, and takes it into dream time.

With even more interviews after the concert, the dvd goes as far as any document yet to create a context and appreciation for this great artist's still controversial move forward.

Track Listing: A Spiritual Orgasm; "So What" Kind of Blue 1964; Fender Rhodes Piano, The New Electric Toy; Bitches Brew Shaking the Foundations; Betty Davis and Miles' Hard Core Rock; Boxing, Improvisation and Miles' Music; Caught Up in the Craziness of the Sixties; The Critics' Jazz - The Dirty Word; Embracing the Shock of Electricity; The Isle of Wight - The Sidemen; "Call It Anything" - The Isle of Wight Concert 1970; Tributes to Miles' Genius; End Credits Bonus Features: Additional Interview Footage; First Electric Period Sessionography 1967-1975, compiled by Enrico Merlin (DVD-ROM only)

Personnel: Isle of Wight performance by: Miles Davis (trumpet), Gary Bartz (soprano saxophone), Chick Corea (piano), Keith Jarrett (organ), Dave Holland (electric bass), Jack DeJohnette (drums), Airto Moreira (percussion) Featured interviews with the band plus Carlos Santana, James Mtume, Herbie Hancock, Marcus Miller, Stanley Crouch, Dave Liebman, Joni Mitchell, Paul Buckmaster, Bob Belden, Pete Cosey
Additional performance footage including Wayne Shorter (tenor saxophone), Herbie Hancock (piano), Ron Carter (bass), Tony Williams (drums), Pete Cosey (guitar), James Mtume (percussion), Dave Liebman (soprano saxophone) and others.

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