Jazz CD Reviews

Miles Davis – Bitches Brew Live – Columbia/Sony Legacy Recordings

This new CD captures rare live performances of genre-bending jazz.

Published on February 20, 2011

Miles Davis – Bitches Brew Live – Columbia/Sony Legacy Recordings

Miles Davis – Bitches Brew Live – Columbia/Sony Legacy Recordings 88697 81485 2, 59:46 ****½:
 
(Miles Davis – trumpet; Chick Corea – electric piano; Dave Holland – bass; Jack DeJohnette – drums; Gary Bartz – alto saxophone; soprano saxophone; Keith Jarrett – B-3; Airto Moreira – percussion))

Nothing explains the life and times of Miles Davis in conventional perspectives. Born to an affluent family, he grew up riding horses and learning the trumpet at the age of thirteen. He started his career as a teenager with Billy Eckstine, before moving to New York. There he would establish himself as an eminent sideman, most notably with the Charlie Parker Quintet. Eventually, he signed with Capitol Records, and a meteoric career was launched. Davis joined the likes of John Coltrane and Duke Ellington as an agent of change, not merely for jazz, but for twentieth century music. Cool jazz, hard bop, and fusion were transformed by the vision of this artist. Quintessential recordings like Birth Of The Cool, Sketches Of Spain, Round About Midnight and Bitches Brew, among many, are regarded as landmark projects. His quintet (featuring John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones) achieved iconic status. Other collaborators included Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Gil Evans and nearly every seminal artist of several eras. He was a staple at the Monterey Jazz Festival, helping to elevate its eminence.

Combined with the musical transcendence was a restless, brooding countenance. On stage, Davis could appear aloof, especially from the audience. The overload of constant musical evolution, social/ ethnic political involvement, and personal stress produced bouts of exhaustion and affected his health. He would rebound time and time again, influencing American culture with his unwavering commitment to exploration of musical context. One facet never changed…his clear, “vibrato-free” trumpet style.
 
Prior to the studio recording of Bitches Brew, Miles Davis had assembled another stellar group of players. He was influenced by the electric music of Sly and the Family Stone, James Brown and an emerging psychedelic force of nature, Jimi Hendrix. The first three tracks of Bitches Brew Live were taken from the 1969 Monterey Jazz Festival. There are story lines to supplement the material. Davis, in the past, stayed on his boat, only disembarking for his festival set. However, this time, he observed several acts which included rock bands like Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention, Ten Years After, Led Zeppellin, Jeff Beck and Sly and The Family Stone. Additionally, Wayne Shorter missed the performance, stuck in traffic. The opening number, “Miles Runs The Voodoo Down”, is the lengthiest track on the CD. There is a certain electric harshness to the band, emphasized by the jagged electric piano sound of Chic Corea and the shrillness of the Davis trumpet. Unlike the later version on the studio LP, the “quartet” achieves a tighter, funkier groove, anchored by Jack DeJohnette’s crisp drumming. Eventually, a slower rhythm is realized through a delicate, lyrical trumpet line. “Sanctuary” is the epitome of a spacey jam, with tempo breaks and meandering riffs. “This Is The Time/The Theme” regains the acid tinge with great interplay between Davis and Corea.

The remaining six tracks, recorded at the famous 1970 Isle Of Wight Festival, showcase a seven piece ensemble, with Gary Bartz replacing Shorter, Keith Jarrett and Airto Moreira. An inspired rendition of “Bitches Brew” begins with an ethereal improvisation that morphs into a steady groove under the lead of Davis. The addition of Gary Bartz’a soprano saxophone brings an exotic flair as it segues into countering piano and organ (Keith Jarrett). This is perhaps the most abstract interpretation of the set. A driving beat energizes “Spanish Key” allowing Bartz an extended soprano solo. There is a freshness to newer versions of “It’s About Time”, ‘Sanctuary” and “The Theme” in the hands of a different lineup of band mates. The extraordinary talent of Miles Davis transforms the music into a groundbreaking experience.   

This is not a perfect CD. Despite the authenticity of the raw concert acoustics, the bass lines seem lost in the mix. However, the excitement and ingenuity of an important artist embracing a cultural shift, raises the aesthetics of this incarnation. Jazz fans will be delighted with this rare live performance.
      
TrackList:
Miles Runs The Voodoo Down; It’s About That Time/The Theme; Directions; Bitches Brew; It’s About That Time; Sanctuary; Spanish Key; The Theme

– Robbie Gerson




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