CD+DVD Reviews

Miles Davis Quintet – Live in Europe 1969: The Bootleg Series Vol. 2 – Columbia/Legacy (3 CDs & 1 DVD)

A “lost” quintet lost no more.

Published on February 20, 2013

Miles Davis Quintet – Live in Europe 1969: The Bootleg Series Vol. 2 – Columbia/Legacy (3 CDs & 1 DVD) 88725418532, CD 1: 64:41, CD 2: 64:11, CD 3: 48:49; DVD: (color, 4:3, PCM 2.0) 45:33 ****1/2:

(Miles Davis – trumpet; Wayne Shorter – tenor and soprano saxophones; Chick Corea – electric piano, piano; Dave Holland – bass; Jack DeJohnette – drums)

Miles Davis’ discography is deep, and there are many treasures to be discovered. Some material is only now coming out, such as the music created by Davis’ third quintet, known as the so-called lost band or lost quintet, with Davis on trumpet, Wayne Shorter on tenor and soprano saxes, Chick Corea on electric and acoustic piano, Dave Holland on bass, and Jack DeJohnette on drums. This group had no official recordings during its brief tenure, 1969-1970, although members participated on Davis’ album Bitches Brew (1970). Up to now, no authorized releases existed and Davis enthusiasts had to deal with illicit bootlegs with questionable credits and audio conditions, although some music by this quintet was included on the compilation Bitches Brew Live (2011). This 3-CD/1 DVD boxed set, Live in Europe 1969: The Bootleg Series Vol. 2, is an important find: here we have four nearly complete European concerts from July and November, 1969. The audio and video have been remastered from the best available sources: Columbia Records’ Legacy imprint secured material from European broadcast centers. Thus the audio and video are superior to bootlegs which still circulate.

1969 was a transitional period for Davis. He was moving from traditional jazz tones into new artistic spheres. By the time of these live shows, Davis had produced Filles de Kilimanjaro (1968), which introduced funky rhythms and was grounded in late-‘60s post-bop, and In a Silent Way (1969), which launched Davis’ jazz-fusion era. Davis’ 1969 European jaunt, however, found his quintet playing a wide-ranging repertoire which contained revamped pieces from Bitches Brew, standards and ballads from the early ‘60s, and tracks from his early be-bop phase, his modal years of the late ‘50s, the mid to late-‘60s (when Davis worked with his second great quintet) and numbers which would later be recorded for Bitches Brew. It is should be noted Davis rarely offered such a spectrum of his past and present (and to some degree his future).

There is some overlap between the three CDs and DVD (“Directions” is heard four times, for example, and “Sanctuary” is repeated three times) but diverse interpretations showcase the fivesome’s intuitive and explorative nature. The first disc, from July 25th, 1969 at Festival Mondial du Jazz d’Antibes, La Pineda, Juan-les-Pins, France, has the poorest sound quality, but that does not distract from the stellar performance; considering the source material and age, it is more than acceptable. The horns are sometimes too far in front of the electric piano, bass and drums, but there is no denying the power of tunes such as “Directions,” where Shorter’s solo burns the air, or an expanded take of Joe Zawinul’s “Milestones,” which is steered from the familiar main theme into an open structure, where space is crucial, and there are avant-garde flourishes which filter through this and other tunes. Davis was eating well and in good physical shape at this time, and that is illustrated on his solos, highlighted by his eloquent and fiery voicing during Thelonious Monk’s “’Round Midnight,” a fan favorite which harkens back to Davis’ bop past, although this rendering is notable for liberal bass/drums nonconformity and Corea’s incisive electric piano, as the ensemble progresses from the recognizable melody into a near-funk jam. The band concludes with “Sanctuary,” which would become famous in a few months when Bitches Brew was issued. Here, Davis and his band members delve into deeper waters, with extended vamps with minor melodic development. This must have come as a shock to those in attendance. In hindsight, this was the approaching tempest which would culminate in Davis’ jazz-rock chapter.

The second disc is from the next night’s appearance at the same venue. The sound is slightly better, although Corea is, at times, still muted in the mix, and as the liner notes point out, there are instances of unavoidable distortion. But the music is fiercer and the band’s restless camaraderie is apparent. “Directions” is aggressive, with Shorter’s solo bursting with intensity. The quintet then goes full-tilt through “Spanish Key,” another foreshadowing of things to come. This is different than the subsequent version delivered on Bitches Brew, and the live rendition heard during Davis’ 1970 tour (which can be heard on Live at the Fillmore East, March 7, 1970: It’s About that Time, which came out in 2001). This does not have the polyrhythmic elements packed into succeeding translations, but does involve knotty Corea contributions and expressive horns (Shorter and Davis go into some especially blistering expanses), as well as a groove-laden rhythmic undertow, even though the drums and bass shift and slant wildly. Other standouts include a careening “Masqualero,” with fine Davis/Shorter communication and a rousing Corea electric piano romp (even though the keyboard is occasionally out of tune and sounds somewhat fuzzy); and an elongated “No Blues,” where everyone is given room to solo: a young Holland, almost unknown at this moment in his profession, has a memorable unaccompanied bass showcase.

Fast forward three months, to November 5th, 1969. The Bitches Brew record has been released, and there is a noticeable change on the third live disc, taped at Folkets Hus, Stockholm. The quintet commences with a nearly 15-minute evolving “Bitches Brew,” where there is intense attention and exploration: harmonic and rhythmic concepts are employed in a stream of invention. Even a loose electric piano wire adds to the rattling musical scope, and eventually, while the rest of the quintet plays, Corea stops and waits for an acoustic piano to be brought out, which is initially diminished in the soundboard mix. Things get radical on Shorter’s “Paraphernalia,” which approaches free jazz, where the musicians go into an abstract domain emphasized by Shorter’s cerebral sax and DeJohnette and Holland’s unhinged patterns. Corea’s proficiency on acoustic piano (he seems less hesitant than on the electric piano) comes to the forefront on a cool rendition of Shorter’s “Nefertiti.” The set closes on a frenetic edge with Corea’s Anthony Braxton-like “This,” (which Davis never officially recorded), where DeJohnette offers some of his most unpredictable rhythmic abandonment, at one point the sole rhythmist behind a feverish Shorter and always unruffled Davis. One caveat: the radio station broadcasting this engagement faded “Masqualero” during Corea’s solo: this mistake on the master tapes could not be remedied.

It is one thing to hear this music. It is another to view it. That is the DVD’s perspective, a 45-minute set videotaped on November 7th, 1969 at Berliner Jazzstage in the Berlin Philharmonie. Despite the age of the video, this is a first-rate production, with no evident video tearing, some color saturation typical of older video, and some streaks where lights reflect on brass instruments. The sound quality is top-notch, and there are numerous angles, close-ups and long shots which depict the players as they solo and interact. The band is decked out with scarves and clothing (see Holland’s cow-pattern vest) indicative of the hippie era, which contrasts with the crowd’s staid look. [Note Miles’ huge macho leather wristwatch band...Ed.] Corea is back on electric piano, the wiring and distortion problems sorted out. The quintet soars through “Directions” and another lengthy excursion through “Bitches Brew,” where Davis places each note perfectly into the auditory concoction. Davis, as mentioned, was in excellent health at this period of his career, and demonstrates that on his solos. No less enticing are translations of “It’s About that Time,” where the sweat drips off Davis’ face as he hits high notes with command, and where Shorter switches to a squealing soprano sax akin to John Coltrane. Davis takes the band and audience back in time with a flowing, emotive “I Fall in Love too Easily” (from his 1963 album, Seven Steps to Heaven), which features a pronounced electric piano/trumpet duet, where the hall’s natural echo provides a considerate ambience for Davis’ trumpet. The deliberate pacing continues through a restrained “Sanctuary,” where Davis and Shorter share synchronized horns. The CD/DVD package is well put together: the discs are in plastic shells rather than the cheap slipcases in some boxed sets, and there is an informative booklet which folds out to 14 by 19 inches, with discographical information and Josef Woodard’s in-depth liner notes on one side (with new interviews with some personnel), and a black and white photo of the quintet on the other side.

TrackList:

CD 1: Introduction by André Francis; Directions; Miles Runs the Voodoo Down; Milestones; Footprints; ‘Round Midnight; It’s About that Time; Sanctuary; The Theme

CD 2: Introduction by André Francis; Directions; Spanish Key; I Fall in Love Too Easily; Masqualero; Miles Runs the Voodoo Down; No Blues; Nefertiti; Sanctuary; The Theme

CD 3: Introduction by George Wein; Bitches Brew; Paraphernalia; Nefertiti; Masqualero (incomplete); This

DVD: Introduciton by John O’Brien-Docker; Directions; Bitches Brew; It’s About that Time; I Fall in Love Too Easily; Sanctuary; The Theme

—Doug Simpson




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