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Miles Davis: Bitches Brew: 40th Anniversary Collectors' Edition

Chris M. Slawecki By

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Historic debate over the relevance and merits of trumpeter Miles Davis' seminal jazz-rock fusion masterwork Bitches Brew (Columbia), especially upon this year's 40th anniversary of its original 1970 release, could fill every page of even a paperless internet jazz e-zine (a body of work to which Greg Tate's companion essay adds: "Bitches is a multi-clawed, multi-tentacled, multi-brained creature whose center of gravity never stays preoccupied with one body part for too long"). But one point seems certain: two live performances of this electrifying music—one from 1969 on a bonus DVD, the other from 1970 on a bonus CD—are the genuine treasure troves of this 40th anniversary Collectors' Edition.

The live CD features extended versions of "Spanish Key," "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down," "Sanctuary" and the landmark title track in a set recorded at Tanglewood (MA) in August 1970, after Bitches was released ("unleashed" may be more accurate), a rare recording of Davis' band with saxophonist Gary Bartz plus twin keyboardists Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea, with Dave Holland (bass), Jack DeJohnette (drums) and Airto Moreira (percussion) as Davis' whirling rhythm engine.

"Bitches Brew" begins like daybreak. Its instruments emerge as if illuminated by the dawn, with Davis' trumpet, like the sun, regally surveying and crowning the treacherous sonic jungle below. "Spanish Key/The Theme" is tethered to its bass pulse and dueling keyboards, while Bartz's soprano sax sometimes pierces and other times bounces off the dense cross- rhythms that churn into sonic tidal waves.

For its encore, the band tears off "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down," a serpentine, modernist blues that travels far out without ever venturing out of its thick, funky rhythmic pocket. Davis' trumpet thrusts and parries and dodges and weaves, twisting up this piece of "Voodoo" like origami. By the time you think you've figured this music out, it's already changed into something different: This recording somehow captures the musical sound of a state of continual becoming.

The previous year—in late 1969—Davis traveled to Europe for a two-week tour, introducing the music on his as-of-yet-unreleased double album with a mostly acoustic quintet (except for Corea's electric keyboard) that featured saxophonist Wayne Shorter. Recorded Live in Copenhagen during the second week of this tour, this bonus concert DVD provides a pristine document of a Davis band rarely if ever seen on video, and proves as stunning and majestic as the bonus live CD.

Upon DeJohnette's downbeat, "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down," his trumpet playing off the drums and keyboards with the best of bad intentions. Shorter and Davis intertwine lines to turn "Sanctuary" inside out with shrieks of primal—almost animal—anguish, scorched by the formative furnace of jazz fusion when it was still more jazz than fusion. "Sanctuary" morphs into "It's About That Time," where DeJohnette's drums beneath the trumpet and tenor solos sound like a series of city blocks exploding. It feels like Davis had just begun to determine how to (barely) harness the power of his raging grooves.

But Davis' (mostly) solo version of the ballad "I Fall in Love Too Easily" is the beautiful, crowning gemstone of Live in Copenhagen, his romantic trumpet a reflecting pool of eternity, profoundly calm and deep.

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