CD+DVD Reviews

MILES DAVIS: Bitches Brew – 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition – (3 CDs + DVD of previously-unissued performance + double-LP replication) – Columbia Legacy

If you're a Miles fan, this one’s definitely a keeper. It could keep you happy for years.

Published on July 6, 2010

MILES DAVIS: Bitches Brew – 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition – (3 CDs + DVD of previously-unissued performance + double-LP replication) – Columbia Legacy

MILES DAVIS: Bitches Brew – 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition – (3 CDs + DVD of previously-unissued performance + double-LP replication) – Columbia Legacy 88697 70274 2, c. three hours *****:

(Miles Davis, trumpet; Herbie Hancock, electric piano (left); Chick Corea, electric piano (right); Jack DeJohnette, drums; Bennie Maupin, bass clarinet; Wayne Shorter, soprano saxophone; John McLaughlin, guitar; Harvey Brooks, electric bass; et al.)

This new release of “Bitches Brew” is a treat for those who collect multi-format audio media. Not only does it feature the original album tracks on CD (and a bonus CD with alternate takes and new material), it also includes an audiophile 180-gram vinyl double-LP gatefold replication of original album. Stop, that’s not all! You also get a DVD of the November 1969 performance of Miles’ quintet in Copenhagen. Not just a clip, it’s over 70 minutes long.

“Bitches Brew” does not mark Miles’ first use of electrical instruments—”Miles In The Sky” introduced electrical guitar and electric bass. Nor was it his first plunge into free jazz: the title track of “Nefertiti” is a nine-minute unstructured foray with stunners like Tony Williams’ explosive drumming and Wayne Shorter’s manic melody repetition. It didn’t even sport the first psychedelic cover: see “Filles De Kilimanjaro” for that. What made it notable was its innovative use of funk-style beat with multiple percussionists, two bassists (one acoustic, one electric), and multiple electric pianists (up to three), all playing at the same time. According to Enrico Merlin, “Bitches Brew” also pioneered the use of the studio as active participant, “featuring stacks of edits and studio effects that were an integral part of the music.”

The long performances of pieces like “Pharaoh’s Dance” and “Bitches Brew” (20 and 27 minutes respectively) not only don’t follow respected and expected jazz forms, they break off into what are nearly modern classical suites with deftly executed tempo changes, use of rubato, and developmental sections like Indian ragas. Some people knew how to react at the time, but others wore it out on their turntables, right next to scuffed copies of The Beatles’ “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart Band” and James Brown’s “Sex Machine.”

The third CD has alternate takes on “Bitches Brew,” “Sanctuary,” “Spanish Key,” etc., as well as hard-to-find takes like “Directions.” (If you want a chuckle, play “Directions” just before viewing an episode of “The Simpsons.” Find the resemblance to “The Simpsons” theme a little eerie? Think its composer (Danny Elfman) ever heard “Directions?”)

The DVD from 1969 is well filmed and shows how much Miles progressed from the live performance filmed in 1967 (included in “Miles Davis: The Complete Columbia Album Collection”). It’s fascinating to see how often Chick Corea tuned his electric piano almost constantly while playing, and how little Miles interacted with his group during performance.
The program notes are an impressive 48-page color booklet, although writer Greg Tate’s trendy-hip style takes some getting used to. He says the album is “forthrightly within the pantheon of the period’s other goddess-muse-inspired masterworks.” There’s got to be some meat in there if you trim the gristle.

“Bitches Brew” totters at the peak of Miles’ creative output, along with “Live Evil” and “A Tribute to Jack Johnson” a year later. After them, he had only a few years left before burning out in the mid seventies; regrettably, when he returned in the early eighties, it was more as an elder statesman than an innovator. He had a few good albums, even a Grammy winner (“Tutu”)—but nothing as groundbreaking as this set. But this one’s definitely a keeper. It could keep you happy for years.

TrackLists:

Disc One (CD) – Selections: 1. Pharaoh’s Dance  2. Bitches Brew  3. Spanish Key  4. John McLaughlin.
Disc Two (CD) – Selections: 1. Miles Runs The Voodoo Down  2. Sanctuary  Bonus tracks: 3. Spanish Key (alternate take)  4. John McLaughlin (alternate take)  5. Miles Runs The Voodoo Down (single edit)  6. Spanish Key (single edit)  7. Great Expectations (single edit)  8. Little Blue Frog (single edit).
Disc Three (CD) – Selections: 1. Bill Graham introduction  2. Directions  3. Bitches Brew  4. The Mask  5. It’s About That Time  6. Sanctuary  7. Spanish Key/The Theme  8. Miles Runs The Voodoo Down  9. Bill Graham outro.  (previously unreleased.)
Disc Four (DVD) – Chapters: 1. Directions  2. Miles Runs The Voodoo Down  3. Bitches Brew  4. Agitation  5. I Fall In Love Too Easily  6. Sanctuary  7. It’s About That Time/The Theme.  (Previously unreleased.)
Vinyl 180-gram double-LP –  LP One – Selections: Side A – 1. Pharaoh’s Dance  Side B – 1. Bitches Brew.   LP Two – Selections: Side A – 1. Spanish Key  2. John McLaughlin  Side B – 1. Miles Runs The Voodoo Down  2. Sanctuary.

– Peter Bates




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