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From the Inside Out

Miles Davis: Year-Long Celebration of Five Decades and Many Miles

By Published: July 18, 2005

Miles Davis in Europe (with Coleman), recorded at the 1963 Antibes Jazz Festival, exercises the same "ridiculous tempos as 'Four' on "Milestones, "Walkin' and "Joshua. Williams simply rips through "Walkin', his snare and tom-tom pops as percussive and colorful as a Fourth of July night sky. Davis and Coleman both blister "Milestones with cascades of white-hot notes, more a reconstruction than a revisiting of the original. The young Hancock proves a master on an epic workout of the warhorse "Autumn Leaves.

Together, the quintet flies funky and free in the space-time opening to "All of You, genuinely warm and humorous and personable.

In his reissue liner notes, Harvey Pekar wonders if this Coleman band gets overlooked between Davis' first and second great ensembles because it played the same repertoire as the first but moved the music toward the second.

Judging from the sound of their reaction when he walked onstage, the crowd had long awaited this first Davis trip to Japan. Miles in Tokyo (Rivers, 1964) is his only album featuring free saxophonist Rivers, who joined Davis' band about two weeks before this performance.

Rivers does stretch the middle sections of "Walkin' and "So What harmonically and rhythmically out a bit father than would have been safe, seeming to bring Hancock's "Walkin' solo out into somewhat more galactic explorations. In this version of "So What the bass line and chords also sort of just flicker by, an unseen current of musical electricity. How Carter's fingers can move this quickly and accurately just does not seem humanly possible. The same can be said for rhythm partners Hancock and Williams, too.

Hancock introduces "My Funny Valentine with the sparkling beauty of Bill Evans, matched by Davis, who comes in a bit stronger but still sadly beautiful. Ending the set with "All of You, Davis resolutely swings, moving almost completely off-mike to sound barely more than the thought of a whisper, then more stridently stepping out bop cool and sharp. His rhythm section twirls yarn after yarn of more modern colored threads.

Miles in Berlin (Shorter, 1964) is the first recording with his new, ("the second great ) quintet. It's a pretty standard program that includes "Autumn Leaves, "Walkin' "Milestones and "So What. But Davis had been interested in Shorter for several years and with him finally onboard, the music turned different.

Intimidated? "I knew there were big shoes to fill in terms of my saxophone predecessors in Miles' groups—Sonny Rollins, Coltrane, Shorter allowed in the original liner notes. "But I'd been listening to Miles since I was 15 and he played with Charlie Parker, and so I thought back to the way he played with Bird.

Throughout, Shorter plays adventurously and strong. In the opening "Milestones, he seems to hear and navigate the space among the rhythm section very well. Hancock's solos also shine in that space, for certain. Shorter flexes his muscles in "So What, played so fast for so long it almost sounds like a matter of course, his saxophone rampaging up the current against Hancock's cascading chord waterfalls. In passages of "Stella by Starlight, their saxophone and piano dance, dipping and twirling, suspended together in space, grasping only onto each other.

"Autumn Leaves, in between "Milestones and "So What, serves as a solid landmark for where Davis' music was at this time. There's no locating the original melody in this reconstruction, at least until Davis returns to brooding upon its climactic line just before the lights turn dark and cold.

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The Best of Seven Steps: The Complete Columbia Recordings of Miles Davis 1963-'64 (1963-64)
With George Coleman, Sam Rivers, and Wayne Shorter, tenor saxophone; Herbie Hancock and Victor Feldman, piano; Ron Carter, bass; Frank Butler, Tony Williams, drums.

This new single CD overviews the entire 1963-'64 box set: Davis' first recordings with the Hancock/Carter/Williams rhythm section ("I Fall in Love Too Easily and title track from Seven Steps to Heaven); "All Blues and "Stella by Starlight from the My Funny Valentine/"Four and More concert; "Autumn Leaves, with Hancock and Coleman shining in featured spots, from In Europe; "If I Were a Bell with Rivers In Japan; and "Walkin' with Shorter, the eventual saxophone chairman who completed Davis' second great quintet.

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Still the Heavyweight Champ

The 50th anniversary Miles celebration will continue on September 20 with the release of The Cellar Door Sessions 1970. This forthcoming six-CD box compiles five hours recorded across three December 1970 dates at the Cellar Door in Washington, DC, a club favored by jam master Les McCann and other jazz funk royalty.

By this time, on the other side of Bitches Brew, Davis played exclusively with electronic instruments, almost always running his trumpet through electronic effects and wah-wah pedals. Here his crew cranked up the brittle, jagged, multicolored electric pinwheel sound in which he would more or less continue to work until he retired for several years in 1975. Throbbing with powerful pulses of Jimi Hendrix, James Brown and Sly Stone, this sound is modern - fiercely modern - electronic rhythm and blues.

Though it's tempting to joke that Davis played two songs during this period, the fast one (such as "Directions ) and the slow one (like "Yesternow ), Bob Belden's liner notes likely hit closer to the truth: "This is the real jam band, the only band that could recreate one chord in so many different ways.

Live/Evil, released in 1972, is the only previous release (in edited form) of some of the music on the forthcoming The Complete Cellar Door Sessions 1970.

Together for about three months at the time of this Cellar Door engagement, the group featured Gary Bartz, (blue of heart, abstract of mind: a near-perfect fit) on alto and soprano saxophone, with Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette and Michael Henderson rampaging in the rhythm section. Percussionist Airto Moreira made all but the first set and John McLaughlin, whose slashing guitar amped up the primal electric fury of Davis' Tribute to Jack Johnson, recorded earlier in 1970, sat in the last two sets.

Every member of this band except one had proved, in their own way, to be an established or emerging major jazz player. Henderson was the wild card. The bassist had played for Stevie Wonder for five years, and with Aretha Franklin, on Marvin's What's Going On and...well, you know: Could his jazz chops make it?

Henderson proved one bad mamma jamma in dusting up the Cellar Door funk. And while the other band members were prone to wander off in inscrutable explorations, Henderson's repetitive, thunderous funk basslines provide the only consistent fulcrum for the listener to grab and hold onto. In this howling, electronic improvisatory maelstrom, Henderson was the funk of Gibraltar.

The accompanying boxset booklet includes personal essays from every surviving band member. Henderson's remembrance notes that, despite all the blows Davis absorbed from the jazz and critical communities for "dirtying jazz music with funk, Miles dug it enough to employ this funk bassist for five consecutive years.

These sets regularly featured Davis' tunes "Honky Tonk and "What I Say plus Shorter's "Sanctuary (from Bitches Brew) and Josef Zawinul's "Directions, which Davis adopted as his concert opener while Zawinul was in his employ as keyboardist. The tunes, however, mostly served as frameworks to be filled in with improvisatory sketches. In these circumstances, the musicians' ability to listen and to change direction in a heartbeat to play off what they heard, was paramount—especially for Jarrett, whose keyboards, in the absence of McLaughlin's guitar, provided the only middle ground between the rhythm section and the horns.

The only time that even some of this music was previously heard was is in edited segments on certain selections from the double-live Davis set Live/Evil (1972). For example, "Funky Tonk on Live/Evil is really edits of "Directions, "Inamorata and Jarrett's "Improvisation #4 from Saturday night's third set, disc six in Cellar Door Sessions. (The rest of Live/Evil comes from Davis studio sessions with Carter, Hancock, Dave Holland, Chick Corea, Hermeto Pascoal and Steve Grossman.)

Reflecting upon what might have been and what became of jazz fusion in the 1970s, Adam Holzman writes almost wistfully in his 'Overview' opening this Cellar Door: "Electric jazz might have gone in a different direction if this music had been released sooner... It's mighty tempting to be grateful that it eventually was released at all.

Related links at AAJ
More Miles Davis CD reviews
Building a Jazz Library: Miles Davis

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