Miles Davis - trumpet; Gary Bartz - soprano and alto saxophone; Keith Jarrett - electric piano, organ; Michael Henderson - bass; Jack DeJohnette - drums; Airto Moreira - percussion; Jumma Santos (aka Jim Riley) - percussion
As the 1960s wound to a close, Miles Davis was fearlessly forging ahead into new musical directions. Following the transitional In A Silent Way, the groundbreaking double album, Bitches Brew would signal an entirely new musical form that found Davis embracing electronic instrumentation and amplification. By 1970, Davis was performing before the largest audiences of his career, often opening for popular rock bands of the era. He had opened for the Band at the Hollywood Bowl, opened Fillmore East bills for headliners Laura Nyro and Neil Young & Crazy Horse, and performed a multi-night run in April opening for the Grateful Dead at Fillmore West. These performances brought Davis a new younger audience that might not have understood the genesis of his music, but dug it just the same. Due to the success of these engagements, Bill Graham procured the Davis Septet for four additional nights at Fillmore West from October 15th through 18th, opening a bill that also featured Leon Russell and Seatrain. Here we present Davis' Thursday night set, recorded on opening night of that run.
At the time of this performance, Davis' had developed outstanding new material with his live band, much of it remaining exclusive to that lineup of musicians. The one double album release by this lineup at the time, Live-Evil, contained some astounding music, but was not representative of this group's live performances. Because his 1970-era unit was never captured in the studio, it never got the attention it deserved, despite being one of the most powerfully creative groups in existence. It's a telling comment on Miles' relentlessly forward-looking vision that a mere sixteen months after recording Bitches Brew, and barely eight months after releasing it to unprecedented commercial success, he had effectively dropped most of the material from his live repertoire. On this performance, Davis focuses primarily on new compositions ("What I Say," "Honky Tonk," Funky Tonk," and "Yesternow"), with only eleven minutes of the hour-plus performance exploring established material ("Bitches Brew" and "Sanctuary").
Various recordings have circulated from this night, including a radio broadcast on Berkeley's KPFA-FM. Few exceptions have ever surfaced where this lineup didn't open their set with "Directions," but on this particular night they apparently opted to open with "Honky Tonk," a new number that would launch an impressive sequence of music that would seamlessly flow for Davis' entire set, clocking in at just over an hour. This material, based largely on rhythmic grooves and melodic phrases, could dramatically change with each performance. Former Motown bassist, Michael Henderson, whose talent for playing circular repetitions gave Davis a new focus on which to anchor his music, inspires much of this music. While Henderson provided the backbone to this new funkier sound, Keith Jarrett had begun playing organ, in addition to electric piano, adding short bursts that complemented Henderson when he wasn't experimenting with classical, chromatic, or totally free playing. Saxophonist Gary Bartz is primarily responsible for the more lyrical and melodic solos, while DeJohnette, Moriera and on this night, Jumma Santos, provide propulsive percussion. To soar above such a dense onslaught of sound took serious power and technique. Miles had plenty of both, blasting out some of the highest notes he ever reached and embracing new technology to amplify, distort, and bend his sound. He also began actively pursuing the use of a wah-wah pedal further funkifying his music.
The recording begins with the group easing their way into "Honky Tonk." Bassist Michael Henderson lays the foundation, working in tandem with drummer Jack DeJohnette and percussionists Airto Moreira and Jumma Santos. Although Keith Jarrett's hatred of electric instruments is well documented, here he performs on two keyboards simultaneously. Although his spontaneous flourishes are occasionally jarring and often feature unusual timbres, they are oddly compelling within the context of this highly adventurous music. "Honky Tonk" eventually 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. Miles plays some of the highest notes of his career during this piece, blasting the music into the stratosphere. Miles is heard both on unaltered trumpet and electrified through a wah-wah pedal. Keith Jarrett sounds positively inspired during his workouts on Fender Rhodes and organ. Saxophonist Gary Bartz interjects sounds from out in the stratosphere, while building his solos from a foundation of thoughtfully constructed lines. Because this entire performance is one continuous suite, it allows one 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.
To release the tension that has built over the preceding 24 minutes, Davis and the group float into the more tranquil Wayne Shorter composition "Sanctuary." This soon transitions into an exploration of "Yesternow," a ferocious track Davis had recorded the previous April for the Tribute To Jack Johnson film, followed by the title track from Bitches Brew, concluding with another new composition, "Funky Tonk." During the nearly 35 minutes of music contained in these last three pieces, the group's power and precision is 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. Inspired by the energy and volume of this music, Davis explores his upper register and his technique, playing with a ferocity that, with the exception of the brief "Sanctuary," seems to consciously avoid anything delicate or romantic. Miles 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 and coded phrases is truly remarkable and is a primary reason for the relentless intensity of this music.
Apart from the set-closing cue of "The Theme," little of this music derives from Miles' jazz period, nor does it fall into the free jazz category that it is so often mistakenly associated with. This music is much funkier, 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