This recently recovered set, drawn from three festival shows in France, Berlin and Stockholm the previous summer, is a raw, must-hear document of Davis with a ‘working’ band that lasted just a matter of months, criminally never to make their mark in the studio, but key to Davis’s misson to rival rock and getting his music to a wider (and what would be whiter) audience.
With the exception of excerpts found on a few heavily-rotated hissy bootlegs, these recordings offer, for many, the first chance to hear Davis with this dream team of Chick Corea on electric piano, Dave Holland on double bass, Jack DeJohnette on drums and, hanging over from Davis’s previous quintet, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, premiering much of the material Davis was ready to record for the proposed Bitches Brew album.
Because these shows pre-date the initial sessions for Bitches by a month – not to mention some later line-up tweaks – there is a much looser feel and approach to the versions on offer here. Opening both the French sets, Davis’s dedication to Duke Ellington “Directions” is at once cluttered, a tireless mess of stuttered snare rolls and violent cymbal crashes washing over a muddy motif from Corea, only ordered when Davis and Shorter eventually blow through the main theme. It’s an intensity that flips over into a more measured “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down”, kept upright with a broad funk hook from Holland, discernible even over DeJohnette’s relentless ride cymbal tapping, steering Shorter towards a busy solo and tempo bordering on bop.
For the more casual diggers of Davis’s voluminous and varied catalogue (and possibly to inject some decorum into this mostly manic mix) some of Davis’s most accepted standards were slipped into these shows. Albeit tailored to suit the out-there air of this vigorous rock style, the taut swing and sharp themes that defined the likes of “Nefertiti”, “Footprints” and “Milestones” are bent out of shape, often stained by loud, squittery trumpet riffing or fixed with thick backbeats.
With just the wistful “I Fall in Love Too Easily” escaping such mutilation (Miles is at his most lyrical here, underpinned by soft ripples of electric piano from Corea), this tireless band also hack into “No Blues” and “‘Round Midnight”, the latter resulting in one of best (if most brutal) readings of the tune, its famed muted trumpet melody swept into a crazy ride cymbal tempo, the air lashed by gloopy organ and a gymnastic Shorter screaming on all cylinders.
While Miles’s messing with the basic mood and melody to some of his most-memorable material help bridge the sonic gap between his post-bop triumphs and the less-coherent spunky funk of “Spanish Key” or “Masqualero”, the re-arranged classics heard here easily protrude as definite highlights. It’s also proof that behind all the psych screech, minimalist motifs and detonating funk grooves, was one of most tempestuous bands to have dined out with Davis. A band that should have carved-out a much longer career together, even when there was a riot goin’ on.
2013, Originally Unpublished