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MILES AT THE FILLMORE – Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3

April 5, 2014

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When I first discovered Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew in the late 70s I had no idea what to make of it.  This was nothing like the Miles I first met on the LP Kind of Blue.  I was young inexperienced jazz fan grooving on the neo-bop, jazz rock, and smooth jazz that was hot at the time.  As I read periodicals like Downbeat I kept hearing about when Miles sold out with Bitches Brew and became a “rock star” in the late 60s and early 70s.  I liked rock and I liked jazz, I figured I would like Miles version of jazz rock. I picked up the double LP with its amazing cover art and sat down to listen.  “What the fuck?”  This was totally impenetrable noise – how could this be popular?

I kept listening and I finally found the groove and Miles electric language began to make sense (but it probably took about 10 years for me to get it).

While listening Miles At The Fillmore I stumbled across this great review of Bitches Brew by a young musician – the bit is about him experiencing it for the first time.

I learned later that Bitches Brew was very much a studio concoction. The overwhelming brilliance was Miles and his band, but you have to give some credit to the great engineer Teo Macero who edited the storm.  Even the live LPs of Miles “electric bands” from this period were highly edited like the first Fillmore (1970’s Miles Davis at Fillmore).  

MILES AT THE FILLMORE – Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3 is a true live set from the Bitches Brew era.   It is the unedited concert sets that were edited to make the original Miles Davis at Fillmore.  There are several very informative reviews online that will put this all in perspective.  A few I recommend are:

It is pretty cool to have a document of a Miles Davis 4 night stand at the height of his artistic powers. The recording quality is very good – this becomes very evident when the CDs are filled out with bonus material from a Fillmore West set from a few months early – equally great music, but not even close to the sonic quality of these 4 nights at the Fillmore East.

Davis’s playing is very strong and muscular – as powerful as any point in his career to that point.  It is easy to connect the dots of Miles’s playing to the photo shoots of Miles sparring (Davis was an avid boxer for exercise).  The arrangements are very adventurous – at time bordering on the avant-garde.  This is not music for the faint of heart.  The music moves from quite meditations to full-out cacophony.  If you are willing to open your mind to what is going on it is truly inspiring.  Even at his most noisy, Davis is always lyrical and the is band down in the groove.

An interesting sidebar is how I came to acquire this album – see separate post.

Each CD represents a full Davis set from a 4 night stand where Davis was the warm up for label mate Laura Nyro.   Davis had roughly one hour sets .  All four nights share some common compositions and each night (except the first night) have some unique compositions. Despite the common material each night has its own feel.  I look forward to lots of listening to figure out what is my favorite night and to better define the spirit of each night.

As you would expect the compositions are much freer than the studio versions – which is saying a lot because the studio versions were some pretty wild shit.  After listening the 4 discs I listened to the studio version of Bitches Brew” and was kind of amazed at how tame and accessible it has become to my ears after over 30 years of listening.  It also emphasized how exploratory Davis’ live band was.  Despite the free nature of the this live album the band is tight.  It is like overhearing a really intense conversation between highly learned friends.  Davis playing in the studio was much more sedate and his horn had a bit too much reverb.  These live sets are raw horn and Davis at full throttle.  The live sets are the main event in a raucous arena whereas the studio work is more of masterpiece on display in a museum. Both are fully valid – just wonderful variations on a similar theme.

Overall this very deep shit for very open-minded listeners.  This kind of music is an acquired taste – like straight espresso or puerh tea.  One you get over the initial bite and learn to savor the taste the rewards are great. This is a trust me and taste it kind of album(s).

 

 

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