Miles Davis - trumpet; Gary Bartz - saxophone; Keith Jarrett - keyboards; Michael Henderson - bass; Jack DeJohnette - drums; Airto Moreira - percussion
After several years of forging his music into new directions and embracing electronic instrumentation and amplification, this was a fascinating time to catch Miles Davis in concert. He was enjoying a creative and commercial peak, and was playing before larger audiences than any other time in his career. On this particular tour, he opened for the Band at the Hollywood Bowl, and this show was recorded on the final night of a four-night run opening for Mandrill and the Elvin Bishop Group at San Francisco's Fillmore West.
Much of this music was inspired by former Motown bassist Michael Henderson, whose talent for playing circular repetitions gave Miles a new focus on which to anchor his music. While Henderson provided the backbone to this new, funkier sound, Keith Jarret had begun playing organ, as well as electric piano, and was adding short bursts that complimented Henderson beautifully when he wasn't experimenting with classical, chromatic or totally free playing. Bartz was primarily responsible for the more lyrical and melodic solos, and Dejohnette and Moriera provided propulsive percussion.
To soar above such a dense onslaught of sound took serious power and technique. Miles had plenty of both, and blasted out some of the highest notes he ever reached, embracing new technology to amplify, distort and bend his sound. Miles developed outstanding new material with this band, much of it remaining exclusive to this lineup of musicians. The set structure was more consistent than any previous time in his career. This material, based largely on rhythmic grooves and melodic phrases, could dramatically change with each performance.
The recording begins approximately ten minutes into the set. The set opening "Directions" was unfortunately missed, and the recording begins toward the end of Miles' solo on "Honky Tonk." "Honky Tonk" transitions into "What I Say," with Henderson holding down a one chord groove that he locks into throughout. This track is based on the powerful drumming of DeJohnette, and it takes off like a rocket. Davis plays some of the highest notes of his career during this piece.
Following an interesting drum break, the tension is released and the band settles briefly into the more tranquil Wayne Shorter composition, "Sanctuary," for several minutes. The number transitions into a fantastic exploration of the In a Silent Way track "Its About That Time," followed by an extended journey into another new composition, "Funky Tonk." During the nearly forty minutes of music contained in these two pieces, the group's power and precision are nothing short of astounding. They venture into plenty of uncharted territory here, all of it captivating.
This particular lineup had a more aggressive sound than any of Miles' previous bands, with a denser and much funkier rhythm section. They were more consistently intense than any rock band and just as loud. The one double album release by this lineup, Live-Evil, contained some incredible music, but was not truly representative of the live performance. In retrospect, this group never got the attention they deserved, as it was truly one of the most powerfully creative groups in existence in 1971.
-Written by Alan Bershaw