By the time Bitches Brew
(Columbia) was released in April, 1970and despite receiving a 5-star review in Downbeat Magazine
trumpeter Miles Davis was already under fire from mainstream jazz critics as having "sold out," despite the densely constructed, improvisationally unfettered music being as unapproachable to an audience looking for accessible music as anything he'd done with his increasingly liberated second great quintet of the 1960s. Sure, there were rock rhythms and, perhaps more disturbingly to the delicate ears of its detractors, rock energy and volume, but if anyone was thinking "sellout," it certainly wasn't Columbia Records, who had no idea what to do with side-long improvisational excursions, pasted together in collage-like fashion by Davis' longtime producer, Teo Macero
But thankfully, the late '60s and early -to-mid-'70s was a time when the emergence of FM radio stations and open-minded music fans made the kind of music Davis and others in his circle made not just accepted, but massively successful. It's no hyperbole to suggest that, were recordings like Bitches Brew
, Weather Report
's self-titled 1971 debut and Mahavishnu Orchestra
's equally groundbreaking first album, 1971's The Inner Mounting Flame
, released todayand that's assuming major labels would even touch this musicthey would never come within an ass' roar of the success they achieved back in the day. Looking back, accusations of selling out were already completely off-base, based on the archival find Live in Europe 1969: The Bootleg Series Vol. 2
(Legacy, 2013), which shone a spotlight in the trumpeter's "lost quintet" featuring, along with Davis, saxophonist Wayne Shorter
, (largely) electric pianist Chick Corea
, bassist Dave Holland
and drummer Jack DeJohnette
. It may have been loud and hard-edged, but it may well have represented the freest music of Davis' career to date.
By the time Bitches Brew
was released, Shorter was gone, replaced by Steve Grossman
; Keith Jarrett
was added to the keyboard mix, playing organ and the occasional tambourine; and percussionist/vocalist/flautist Airto Moreira
was recruited to turn Davis' touring quintet into the septet heard on all but three tracks of Miles at the FillmoreMiles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3
, another archival release that demonstrates how the trumpeter may well have been absorbing the music of Jimi Hendrix
, Sly & The Family Stone and James Brown
, but what was coming from his pen and horn was something else entirely.
This four-CD set makes available, for the first time, Davis' entire run at Bill Graham's legendary Fillmore East for four nights beginning on June 17, 1970. Portions of music from this series of gigs were issued as the two-LP set Miles Davis at Fillmore
(Columbia), released six months later in December of the same year, with one side devoted to each of the four nights, judiciously edited down to 22-to-28-minute suites titled "Wednesday Miles" through "Saturday Miles."
Davis' Fillmore run was, in fact, an opening slot for singer/songwriter Laura Nyro and, while Graham only allotted Davis one hour each night, his opening night constituted a mere 46-minutes, though it was plenty enough time for the trumpeter to establish his then-modus operandi
: continuous sets where he cued the band from one tune to the next, ending with the same "The Theme" that he'd been using for 15 years, since his pre-Columbia days recording for Prestige Records. The Thursday and Saturday night sets clock in at close to an hour including, at the Thursday show, an encore that was rarely allowed at the Fillmorein this case the only appearance of Bitches Brew
's "Spanish Key" in the box, which motors along much more cleanly than the studio version, if for no other reason than there were fewer players involved. In order to flesh out the other two discs, co-producers Michael Cuscuna
and Richard Seidel include three previously unreleased tracks from Davis' performance at Graham's Fillmore West in San Francisco just two months prior (first upfor the most part, as the liner notes explainbefore the Grateful Dead and Steve Miller Band) but they also reveal plenty. Shorter's "Paraphernalia" and "Footprints," culled from Miles in the Sky
(Columbia, 1968) and Miles Smiles
(Columbia, 1966) respectively, are surprisingly still part of these post-Shorter sets, while Bitches Brew
's "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down"like "Spanish Key" and the other Fillmore West tracksrepresents its only appearance on Miles at the Fillmore
What the inclusion of these tracks demonstratesas does the appearance of Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne's classic ballad, "I Fall in Love Too Easily" in the Friday and Saturday sets (albeit only briefly)is that despite Davis' mantra-like motto of never looking back and only looking forward, he was still culling material from his near and distant past, but the manner in which these older tunes were interpreted is another thing entirely. Unlike his first version on Seven Steps to Heaven
(Columbia, 1963), Davis plays "I Fall in Love" without the mute, his mellow mid-range tone as compelling as ever, with the rest of the band creating an ethereal cushion rather than a swinging backdrop; the miniature reading acting, in fact, as a segue into a similarly abbreviated look at Shorter's atmospheric "Sanctuary" from Bitches Brew
(although an early, acoustic version can be heard on the 1998 Legacy Recordings box, The Complete Columbia Studio Sessions 1965-68
Beyond these single piece appearances, Davis also pulls out the funkier "Willie Nelson," which he'd just recorded as part of the sessions for what would become his one and only true rock record, A Tribute to Jack Johnson
(Columbia, 1971), though it would not appear on record until the two-LP compilation Directions
(Columbia) was released in 1980. Here, it's sandwiched between "Bitches Brew" and "The Theme" on the Saturday night show, and gives Grossman another chance to demonstrate his visceral virtuosity on soprano saxophone, while Hollandat these shows playing more electric bass than acousticgradually takes its hypnotic riff farther and farther out, as Corea, DeJohnette, Jarrett and Moreira follow suit.
For an artist who rarely played the same set twice, it's also worth noting that the overall set lists on each nightdespite the addition of "I Fall in Love Too Easily" and "Sanctuary" on Friday and Saturday, and "Willie Nelson" on the final show of the four-night runare absolutely consistent...and even the overall run times are closer than usual. Joe Zawinul
's "Directions"first recorded during the sessions for the trumpeter's In a Silent Way
(Columbia, 1969)opens all four setsa warm-up, fanfare and rallying call for the entire groupfollowed by the relentlessly open-ended "The Mask," another recent piece from the Jack Johnson
sessions. In a Silent Way
's "It's About That Time" follows; its simple but unmistakable theme once again rallying the group as it leads (directly on Wednesday and Thursday, after "I Fall in Love" and "Sanctuary" on the final two nights) to the title track from Bitches Brew
and, ultimately, the brief set-closing "The Theme."
The running times may be roughly the same and, given the brevity of the sets, Davis may have opted, uncharacteristically, for a relatively consistent set list in order to provide as much a cross-section of his music to his youthful audience as possiblean important move on the trumpeter's part, as he was realizing that this was the demographic he needed to capture if he were to remain both fresh and relevant; still, as would be expected, the performances themselves vary widely from night to night, with Davis playing open horn throughout the week, still a few months away from electrifying his horn and adding effects like the wah wah pedal that would become so prevalent on later recordings during the decade. Powerful and endlessly inventive, his playing here is as strong as on Live in Europe 1969
and, while there'd been some personnel changes, the chemistry between Corea, Holland and DeJohnette has clearly continued to evolve. Overall, the music on Miles Davis at Fillmore
isn't quite as extreme as Live in Europe 1969
, but it comes awfully close at many points throughout each of these four sets, with just about every track capable of dissolving into complete and utter freedom at any time, only to be somehow magically pulled back to form, whether by Davis' band mates or the leader himself.
Jarrett's days with Davis are still relatively early at this point, and while it's easy to discern his wah-wah'd contributions on organ from Corea's ring modulated Fender Rhodes (Corea in the left channel, Jarrett in the right), Corea tends to dominate a little more. Now working with a percussionistwho also brings some of the Amazon forest to the proceedings with his flute playing and liberated vocalizationssome drummers might feel the need to simplify, but not DeJohnette. This group may never reach the degree of density that Davis would on subsequent albums like On the Corner
(Columbia, 1972) and Pangaea
(Columbia, 1975)the live album that, along with Agharta
(Columbia, 1975), were recorded the same day, initially released in Japan only and represented Davis' final recordings until 1981's Man With the Horn
(Columbia) announced that he was back from five years of drug-fueled seclusion and, once again, moving in a completely different directionbut it was plenty full enough at times, even as it was instantly responsive to Davis' cues, as in the various versions of "Bitches Brew," where the group magically coalesces into its thundering defining riff.
What's especially wonderful about Miles at the FillmoreMiles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3
with revealing and informative liner notes from Cuscunais that it needn't supplant the original Miles Davis at Fillmore
. Macero's remarkable editing ability still allows Miles Davis at Fillmore
's four condensed sides to stand on their own as distinct and separate entities; but with the release of the newly mixed, newly mastered Miles at the FillmoreMiles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3
, it's now possible to hear the entire performances and experience the true reality of this group's ability to blend atmospherics with unbridled power. Both recordings are best played loud
, and if the unearthing of these tapes is to give any hope, it's that there are other full concert recordings to be found from this, the period that has ultimately proven to be, along with Davis' second quintet recordings, the most intriguing and forward-thinking of his forty-year career.