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Monday, May 18, 2009

Miles Davis - Another bitches brew

MDanotherbitchesBelgrade, November 3, 1971: This is a bootleg with legs, being the rare and mostly well-recorded snapshot of Miles’ late 1970-1971 band, near the end of its life. It was the last band sans guitars Miles ever put together. This music is built from the ground up, and Michael Henderson held the keystone. (Try playing the bass line to “Yesternow” or “Honky Tonk” without losing your place or speeding up, and you may begin to appreciate Henderson on a new level.) By this concert, he’d dropped the Holland emulations and gotten back to his rock-solid rhythms, but he was not yet a player to look to for keeping things interesting and evolving, except perhaps by accident. Keith Jarrett, holding down two keyboards, ably takes on the mid-ground role of colorist. With so much space in the music and no guitars to fill it, it’s a big job. His organ playing here is subtle; so much so the CD producers list only electric piano. (Jarrett’s tenure lasted just a week or two past this concert.) Gary Bartz doesn’t get a chance to add much to his resume here, which is a shame (Miles’ post-1970 concept tended to treat saxophonists as an optional feature—in for a solo, then out again, never initiating a change in direction, always following Miles). The two-percussionist plus drummer setup—Leon Chancler, Mtume, and Don Alias—works well enough, but without guitar the rhythm sounds thin and at times a bit tenuous. The recording balance doesn’t help, being somewhat light on the bottom end (the engineers no doubt thought they were mic’ing and mixing a “jazz” gig—but the mix is clear as a bell).
The set is marked by tense, drawn-out transitions between themes. “Directions” floats in on a rocket before dropping into half-time at 3:27; the transition into “Honky Tonk” begins at 10:25 and stretches over two minutes, with Jarrett and Henderson musically arguing over where the music will go. Once it gets rolling, Jarrett builds some new modalities and nervous rhythm under the sax and trumpet solos, adding unexpected but just-right pokes and prods, then shouting out his own gospelly funk. For a wailing Bartz, he’s down home; under Miles, he goes off into exotic territory. One doesn’t usually think of Jarrett as having an accompanist’s nature, but here’s the evidence. In between the solos, Jarrett gets his groove on. Miles%20DavisAt 23:44 Miles ushers in that stuttering, march-like bit which, after nearly four minutes of neither-here-nor-there-ness, begins to take form as a hard-driving “What I Say”. Too fast to funk hard, as the Live-Evil version does, the whole thing gets so frenetic it’s kind of silly. Jarrett’s post-bop arabesques fit the music a little better than the sax wails. The tempo turns fluid, halving and doubling ambiguously, before a conga duo takes center stage, backed by Chancler’s discreet hi-hat locomotion. This two-percussionist band with Mtume and Don Alias, with five or six congas onstage, is among the least-documented of Miles’ multitudinous incarnations. It’s gratifying to hear them take the spotlight in tandem so winningly. “Sanctuary” receives an atmospheric theme statement, before Miles screams a few times, turning up the juice.
At 55:17 Miles plays the “Honky Tonk” cue again, but Henderson goes into “Yesternow”. There’s a hole at around 60 minutes where Miles pops in a startlingly atypical muted sound, a lone bugler lost in acres of no-man’s-land. Moments later, Bartz stages a break-out by adding some through-the-horn vocalisms, but reins himself in after just a few spooky whoops. (Miles never seemed to care for anything too self-consciously “weird”.) At that moment, there’s an abrupt fadeout, just as things are getting really interesting. Leaving one lost in speculation as to whether a second set from this remarkable night exists on tape.
Miles%20Davis002Belgrade, November 3, 1973: Miles opens the ‘73 Belgrade set with a freaky-deaky phrase scarred by distortion—a herald of the lousy engineering that tarnishes the concert. Neither the horns nor the guitars sound very settled in the mix. For a good long while, there seems to be a didgeridoo player hooting whenever Miles takes a solo—it’s a feedback gremlin. At 18:24 (frustratingly, no index numbers are employed on either Belgrade disk) the leader cuts the band out, unleashes one of those avalanches of plunging notes (accompanied by the feedback) and the music opens up and out. Mtume gets a good feature on congas at this point before a solo from Cosey, then Miles, and Foster kicks up his ride cymbal again. They subside, and again Mtume comes into the foreground, with Liebman tootling a tentative flute. When the band finally starts cooking on “Calypso Frelimo”, the guitars again come out overripe and punishing. If you can get beyond that, Miles gets worked up into an outstanding solo, and at 31:44 does a duck-and-weave with the “Calypso” theme, shadowed by Liebman, now on soprano sax. At about 40 minutes, Cosey dances in, sounding for all the world like Prime Time-era Bern Nix. (Ornette’s bands were always naturally jangly.) A few minutes later, after some haunting conga vocalizations, the ordeal is over.It’s a jangly time overall, mostly due to the engineer’s, shall we say, choices. Twenty-first century Miles scholarship posits that very few engineers or producers of that day, including Teo Macero, really knew how to mix this music, a problem compounded by the limitations of the live setting. Even the 1973 Montreux sets suffer many of the same ills: Mic’ed and mixed as a “jazz” set, the mix doesn’t put forth the essential tidal waves of bass, drums, and guitar. Miles’ own Nagra portable recorder was responsible for capturing the superior board mix on Another Unity (see below). Miles%20Davis003As Chris Murphy relates in his road memoir, Miles To Go, the two-track Nagra had a direct feed from the hall engineer’s mixing console. For the European concerts, the documents we have are most likely the result of broadcast tapes. Whoever was at the board in Belgrade ‘73 does a spiffy job bringing the guitars front and center, at the expense of the horns; and, as too often happens, the lower-frequency range is threadbare. Liebman’s flute passages sound thin and unsupported, his opening sax bit distorted and ugly. The more exciting experiments come from Cosey and/or Lucas, both still working out their guitar sounds, tunings, and effects. During the opening minutes, one of them (probably Cosey) takes off on a solo with a sound so close to Miles’ amplified trumpet sound, the ear is fooled. (Cosey’s range of experimentation is truly astounding, his ideas never-ending, and his success rate astonishingly high. He brought numerous guitars onstage with him along with his own tuning systems. On a 1973 Vienna concert, he can be seen for much of the set working a mutant twelve-string which has the doubling strings tuned in thirds.)

CD1: Belgrade, November 3, 1971

CD2: Belgrade, November 3, 1973

Miles Davis (tp); Gary Bartz(as, ss); Keith Jarrett (el-p); Michael Henderson(b); Ndugu Leon Chancler (d); James Mtume Foreman,
Charles Don Alias
(cga, perc)

Miles Davis (tp, org); Dave
Liebmann
(ss, ts, fl); Reginald Lucas, Pete Cosey(el-g); Michael Henderson (b); Al Foster
(d); James Mtume Foreman (cga, perc)

1. Directions
2. Honky Tonk
3. What I Say
4. Sanctuary
5. It's About That Time
6. Yesternow

1. Turnaroundphrase
2. Tune in 5
3. Turnaroundphrase
4. Calypso Frelimo
5. Tune in 5



Miles Davis - Another bitches brew
SOURCESDBSOUND QUALITYA+FORMATMP3BITRATE320TRACKS #6/5
LOCATION / VENUEBelgradeDATE71 / 73
NOTES:

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