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StLJN Saturday Video Showcase: The "lost" ensembles of Miles Davis


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This week, let's take a look at some history related to the most important jazz musician to come from the St. Louis area, Miles Davis.

As a bandleader, Davis had many celebrated groups over the years, such as the “Birth of the Cool" nonet; the six-piece ensemble that recorded Kind of Blue; the first “great quartet" of the 1950s featuring John Coltrane; and its successor in the 1960s with Tony Williams, Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock, and Wayne Shorter.

All of these groups established their enduring appeal in part by recording notable albums that have become part of jazz history. But there also were a couple of relatively short-lived lineups led by Davis that, while packed with talent, have come to be known as “lost" because they toured but didn't make any studio recordings. Fortunately, some live recordings of these groups have surfaced in recent years, and thanks to YouTube, now we can see what they looked like as well as how they sounded.

The best known of these groups probably is the “Lost Quintet," which toured in 1969 and included Dave Holland on bass, Jack DeJohnette on drums, Chick Corea on electric piano, and Wayne Shorter on tenor and soprano saxophones.

This band also is sometimes called Davis' “last quintet," because it was the final group he led with the traditional trumpet-saxophone-rhythm section instrumentation. With Corea playing a Rhodes piano and Holland sometimes using an electric bass, this lineup provided a bridge from Davis' all-acoustic quintets from earlier in the 60s to the larger, fully electric bands he would deploy in the 1970s.

Not coincidentally, 1969 also was the year Davis recorded his landmark album Bitches Brew, and you can get some hints of what's to come in these videos of his working band from that year. They were recorded both before and after the August sessions for Bitches Brew, with a set from July 25 in Antibes, France up above, followed after the jump by shows from October 20 in Rome and November 3 in Paris.

The other four videos feature Davis' “Lost Septet," which toured in 1971 and included Gary Bartz on alto and soprano sax, Keith Jarrett on electric piano and organ, Michael Henderson on bass, and Ndugu Leon Chancler on drums, plus percussionists James “Mtume" Foreman and Don Alias.

Davis was well along the fusion trail at that point, and while some of the material this group is playing would be familiar to audiences from his then-recent recordings, the prominence of the three drummers (and the absence of the guitars that played a major role in subsequent lineups of the 70s) definitely gives the music some different flavors from the rest of the trumpeter's electric period.

The “Lost Septet" is represented here in the four final videos, which document concerts from November 6, 1971 in Berlin; November 9 at the Jazzforum in Oslo, Norway; and November 16 at the Palazzo dello Sport, in Turin, Italy; plus a partial and somewhat blemished recording of their appearance on November 20 at the Cascais Jazz Festival in Portugal. (There are several versions of this last recording on YouTube; this one seemed best in terms of quality and completeness.)

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