Miles Davis- trumpet; Steve Grossman- soprano sax; Chick Corea - electric piano; Dave Holland - bass; Jack DeJohnette - drums; Airto Moreira -percussion
Presented here is Miles Davis, performing between openers Stone The Crows and headliners The Grateful Dead on a triple bill that typifies the musical diversity that Bill Graham often embraced at The Fillmores. Recordings from this four-night run at Fillmore West capture Miles and his sextet shortly after a major crossroads in his career, when he first began performing in rock music venues after years of performing in dark, smoky jazz club settings. From all accounts, this era was an eye opening experience for the audience, as well as for Miles himself. Never one to stand still, these concerts find Miles fully entrenched in a new musical direction that would blur the lines between rock and jazz forever.
Throughout his career, Miles mentored and collaborated with many younger musicians who would move on to greater fame, but few played with more fire than they did under Miles' direction. This band is a prime example and this run is notable for being Steve Grossman's first live performances with Miles. Nineteen years old at the time, Grossman was filling the formidable shoes of Wayne Shorter, who had departed following the group's Fillmore East debut the month prior. A Coltrane and Rollins disciple, Grossman had closely studied these master improvisers and his soprano sax work on this performance adds a new contrast and dynamic to the sextet's sound.
Due to the extraordinary musicianship and the tendency to play continuously for an entire set, it can be difficult for the casual listener to take it all in. Rather than announce a song to the audience (or to his band for that matter), Miles would play a coded phrase to signal the musicians to transition into another direction. This spontaneous approach, from a jazz musician who was now embracing amplified electric instrumentation, caused quite a stir in 1970. Although he was consciously ignoring the expectations of his well-established fan base, this era of Miles' music would have a profound influence on younger jazz musicians, the progressive rock movement in Europe, and rock musicians like The Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix. This was near the beginning of a five-year stretch when Miles would take his music in radically different directions with an intensity level that few have ever matched. Despite this music being initially difficult to grasp, concentrated listening proves quite rewarding.
The recording begins with Davis' standard opener of this era, the Joe Zawinul composition "Directions," which immediately cooks with the propulsive energy that this lineup is so admired for. As they approach the 10-minute mark, Miles signals the band to transition into the snaky Bitches Brew track, "Miles Runs The Voodoo Down." Miles allows plenty of room for experimentation, soloing when he feels inspired and using his horn to rein the improvisations back in when they veer too far off track. Throughout its 13-minute duration, the group explores some deliciously spooky places; Chick Corea fans may also notice that during his solo, he and the rhythm section play touches of his own composition, "Sundance." There's no question Miles is embracing spontaneity here, but this equally conveys his overall control of the band's direction at all times.
One of the most interesting aspects of this particular set is that it captures Miles and his band at a transition point. The material explored in the middle of this set best exemplifies this, as it provides listeners the opportunity to hear Miles exploring electric instrumentation on quite a bit of older, acoustic-based material. They explore three older Wayne Shorter compositions - "Paraphernalia," "Footprints" and "Sanctuary" - with the standard "I Fall In Love Too Easily" surfacing between the latter two. It is fascinating to hear Miles and Grossman exploring this material in a new electric context, literally forging a link between the two eras. Listeners will particularly enjoy the waltz-like "Footprints" performed here, as at about a minute in, Miles begins repeatedly alluding to the melody of "My Favorite Things."
The last 15 minutes of the set veer back into more modern Miles compositions, beginning with an extended exploration of "It's About That Time" from his In A Silent Way album, which was his first to fully embrace electric instrumentation. This eventually culminates into a few minutes of "Willie Nelson" followed by Miles' outro theme to close the set. Because this performance remains one long continuous suite, it allows listeners to follow the flow and logic of the music over an extended period of time. This continual flow, devoid of announcements identifying the songs, often left critics and some listeners confused, but focused listening reveals that distinct changes are taking place. Miles is thoroughly in control of the musical direction at all times, whether he is in the forefront or not. He guides the music back to particular vamps or themes, continually bringing focus to the group improvisations. The swift and agile response of the musicians to Miles' cues is truly remarkable and is a primary reason for the restless intensity of this music. This music is funky, often comprised of deep, one-chord, cyclical grooves that have little in common with jazz. As he had done several times in the past, Miles was forging into uncharted territory and creating a shift in modern music that would influence countless musicians and change the course of modern music.
-Written by Alan Bershaw