Miles Davis and the Making of Bitches Brew: Sorcerer’s Brew

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Miles Davis
By David Redfern
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Miles Davis
By David Redfern
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Miles Davis
By David Redfern
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Miles Davis
By Don Hunstein

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August of 1969 marked Miles Davis’ boldest venture yet into undiscovered country. This time there was no more holding back, no more tentative experimentation, no more “walking on eggshells.” The album that emerged, Bitches Brew, was groundbreaking, beginning with its stark title and Abdul Mati Klarwein’s memorable cover painting. Made on Miles’ personal invitation, Klarwein’s expressionistic work captured the zeitgeist of free love and flower power, depicting a naked black couple looking expectantly at an ocean, a huge vibrant, red flower beside them. The background of the title is unknown, but a clue is provided by the absence of an apostrophe at the end of the word “bitches,” making “brew” a verb, not a noun. Carlos Santana speculated that the album was a “tribute” to “the cosmic ladies” who surrounded Miles at the time and introduce him to some of the music, clothes, and attitudes of the ’60s counterculture.1 Gary Tomlinson, on the other hand, assumed that “bitches” referred to the musicians themselves.2 Just like “motherfucker,” the term “bitch” can be used as an accolade in African-American vernacular. Whatever the title meant, it sounded provocative. Teo Macero remarked, “The word ‘bitches,’ you know, probably that was the first time a title like that was ever used. The title fit the music, the cover fit the music.” 3

The music on Bitches Brew is indeed provocative, and extraordinary. For Miles it meant a point of no return for the musical direction he had initiated with the recording of “Circle in the Round” in December of 1967. Until August of 1969 he had remained close enough to the jazz aesthetic and to jazz audiences to allow for a comfortable return into the jazz fold. But Bitches Brew’s ferocity and power carried a momentum that was much harder to turn around. The hypnotic grooves, rooted in rock and African music, heralded a dramatic new musical universe that not only gained Miles a new audience, but also divided it into two groups—each side looking at this new music from totally different, and seemingly unbridgeable, perspectives. In the words of Quincy Troupe, these two groups were like “oil and water.”4

Bitches Brew signaled a watershed in jazz, and had a significant impact on rock. In combination with Miles’ fame and prestige, the album gave the budding jazz-rock genre visibility and credibility, and was instrumental in promoting it to the dominant direction in jazz. The recording’s enormous influence on the jazz music scene was bolstered by the fact that almost all the musicians involved progressed to high-profile careers in their own right. In the early 1970s, Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter (with percussionist Airto Moreira) were involved in Weather Report, Herbie Hancock and Bennie Maupin set up Mwandishi, John McLaughlin (with Billy Cobham) created Mahavishnu Orchestra and Chick Corea founded Return to Forever with Lenny White.

Bitches Brew was not a sudden dramatic move in a completely new direction for Miles, though. In line with his long-standing, step-by-step working methods, the recording was maybe a large, but nevertheless logical step forward on a course he had set almost two years earlier. In terms of personnel, musical conception, and sonic textures, the album was a direct descendant of its predecessor, In a Silent Way. Teo Macero remarked that with the latter album, the music “was just starting to jell. [In a Silent Way] was the one before [Bitches Brew]. Then all of a sudden all the elements came together.” 5

Bitches Brew and In a Silent Way are both dominated by circular grooves, John McLaughlin’s angular guitar playing and the sound of the Fender Rhodes electric piano. However, Miles related in his autobiography how he wanted to expand the canvas on Bitches Brew in terms of the length of the pieces and the number of musicians. While In a Silent Way featured eight musicians and was recorded in one single session, Bitches Brew included 13 musicians and was the result of three days of recording. On the third day the rhythm section consisted of as many as 11 players: three keyboardists, electric guitar, two basses, four drummers/percussionists and a bass clarinet. Miles had pulled out the stops in his search for a heavier bottom end.

Uncharacteristically, Miles’ live quintet also influenced Bitches Brew. Miles’ live and studio directions were strongly diverging around this time, with the studio experiments pioneering new material—incorporated elements of rock, soul and folk that only gradually filtered through to the live stage. But in July of 1969 Miles’ live quintet began performing “Spanish Key,” “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” and “Sanctuary,” all of which would appear on Bitches Brew. (“Sanctuary” had, of course, already been recorded by the second great quintet on February 15, 1968.)

Having broken in this new material, Miles felt confident enough to book three successive days of studio time. He began by calling in the same crew that had recorded In a Silent Way: Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul, John McLaughlin and Dave Holland; only Tony Williams and Herbie Hancock were missing. Miles gave preference to live-band drummer Jack DeJohnette because of his “deep groove,”6 invited Lifetime organist Larry Young instead of Hancock, and also added session bassist and Columbia producer Harvey Brooks. Together with Zawinul and McLaughlin, Young and Brooks had played on a session Miles organized for his wife, Betty Mabry, a few weeks earlier to record her first and ultimately unsuccessful solo album, They Say I’m Different. Miles also summoned 19-year-old drummer Lenny White who, like Tony Williams, is reported to have been brought to his attention by saxophonist Jackie McLean. Drummer/percussionist Don Alias had been introduced to Miles by Tony Williams, and brought along percussionist Jim Riley, also known as “Jumma Santos.” Tenor saxophonist and bass clarinettist Bennie Maupin was recommended by Jack DeJohnette. A finishing touch, and a stroke of genius, was Miles’ instruction to Maupin to play only the bass clarinet, adding a very distinctive and enigmatic sound to the brew.

According to Miles, the approach he had developed of presenting musicians with musical sketches they had never seen before was also integral to the making of Bitches Brew. “I brought in these musical sketches that nobody had seen, just like I did on Kind of Blue and In a Silent Way”7 However, this contradicts with the fact that three of the pieces had already been broken in during live concerts, as well as with his assertion that there had been rehearsals for the making of Bitches Brew, a fact that is confirmed by Joe Zawinul. “There was a lot of preparations for the sessions,” the keyboardist recalled. “I went to Miles’ house several times. I had 10 tunes for him. He chose a few and then made sketches of them.” 8

“The night before the first studio session we rehearsed the first half of the track ‘Bitches Brew,’” drummer Lenny White recalled. “I think we just rehearsed that one track. Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, Chick Corea and Wayne Shorter were all there. I had a snare drum, and Jack had a snare drum and a cymbal. I was a 19-year-old kid, and I was afraid of Miles. My head was in the clouds! I was in awe. But he was really cool with me; he encouraged me and I ended up spending time with him at his home in later months. He was a real positive influence.”

Since Miles was looking for more complex, larger-scale pieces, he probably felt that he needed some rehearsals to establish at least some structure and organization to keep more than a dozen musicians focused during three days of sessions. With none of the musicians aware of the whole picture, they would still react to the sessions with beginners’ minds.

At 10 a.m. on Tuesday, August 19, 1969, 12 musicians, Teo Macero and engineer Stan Tonkel gathered at Columbia Studio B for the first day of the recordings of Bitches Brew. Miles described the sessions as follows: “I would direct, like a conductor, once we started to play, and I would either write down some music for somebody or would tell him to play different things I was hearing, as the music was growing, coming together. While the music was developing I would hear something that I thought could be extended or cut back. So that recording was a development of the creative process, a living composition. It was like a fugue, or motif, that we all bounced off of. After it had developed to a certain point, I would tell a certain musician to come in and play something else. I wish we had thought of video taping that whole session. That was a great recording session, man.” 9

“As the music was being played, as it was developing, Miles would get new ideas,” Jack DeJohnette commented. “This was the beautiful thing about it. He’d do a take, and stop, and then get an idea from what had just gone before, and elaborate on it, or say to the keyboards ‘play this sound.’ One thing fed the other. It was a process, a kind of spiral, a circular situation. The recording of Bitches Brew was a stream of creative musical energy. One thing was flowing into the next, and we were stopping and starting all the time, maybe to write a sketch out, and then go back to recording. The creative process was being documented on tape, with Miles directing the ensemble like a conductor an orchestra.”

“During the session we’d start a groove, and we’d play,” Lennie White remembered. “And then Miles would point to John McLaughlin and John would play for a while, and then Miles would stop the band. Then we’d start up again and he’d point to the keyboards, and someone would do another solo. All tracks were done in segments like that, with only the piano players possibly having a few written sketches in front of them. Miles said that he wanted Jack DeJohnette to be the leader of the rhythm section, because he was wearing the sunglasses! I’m from Jamaica, Queens, and I had played with other drummers before. I was trying to be very aware of wanting the music to sound very organic and congruent, real tight and seamless, so that people couldn’t really hear that there were two drummers.”

“Bitches Brew was like a big pot and Miles was the sorcerer,” White continued. “He was hanging over it, saying, ‘I’m going to add a dash of Jack DeJohnette, and a little bit of John McLaughlin, and then I’m going to add a pinch of Lenny White. And here’s a teaspoonful of Bennie Maupin playing the bass clarinet.’ He made that work. He got the people together who he thought would make an interesting combination. Harvey Brook said he didn’t know why he got the call, but he made an interesting pairing with Dave Holland on acoustic bass. It was a big, controlled experiment, and Miles had a vision that came true.”

“The idea of using two basses and two drummers was very interesting,” Dave Holland agreed. “The role division between Harvey and me depended on the piece, but as I remember it, Harvey was taking responsibility for laying down the main line on the electric bass, and I had a freer part embellishing things on the acoustic bass. Miles always gave the minimum amount of instructions. Usually he’d let you try and find something that you thought worked, and if it did, then that would be the end of it. His approach was that if he needed to tell someone what to do, he had the wrong musician. If we used any notation it was often a collage-type thing with a bass line and some chord movement, and maybe a melody related to that. But it was never something long or extended. It was always a fairly compact section, and then we’d move to another section. The recording of Bitches Brew was therefore often very fragmented. We’d have these sketches of ideas, and we’d play each for ten minutes or so, and then we’d sort of stop, come to an ending of sorts. And then we might do one more take like that, and then move on to the next thing. Often I didn’t know whether we were rehearsing or recording, but Miles had a policy of recording everything.”

“I think it was a lot of fun for him, with his favorite musicians on their respective instruments,” DeJohnette added. “It was different and it was fun. There wasn’t a lot said. Most of it was just directed with a word here and a word there. We were creating things and making them up on the spot, and the significant thing was that the tape recorder was always rolling and capturing it. Sometimes Miles said: ‘This is not working. That’s not it. Let’s try something else.’ But it was never because somebody had made a mistake or something. Miles was hearing the collective. He was trying to capture moods and feelings and textures. He always went for the essence of things, and that was much more important to him than going back and redoing a note that wasn’t perfect. Perfection for him was really capturing the essence of something, and being in the moment with it. And then he and Teo later edited all these moments and put them all together. Some of the edits surprised me, but overall they were seamless, and captured the feeling and the intensity of the music.”

Having been rehearsed the night before at Miles’ house, “Bitches Brew” was the first track recorded on that initial day in Columbia Studio B. A beautiful example of Miles’ directing and of the recording-in-sections approach can be heard at 7:28, when the ensemble appears to drift to a halt. Miles gives some indecipherable instructions, and the musicians carry on, clearly still not quite knowing where to go, because the music soon dissolves into entropy again. At this point, at 7:50, Miles simply says “John.” McLaughlin begins to solo and the band picks up the groove again. Enough material was recorded in this way to create a separate track from an outtake (on which Miles did not play), titled “John McLaughlin.”

After recording “Bitches Brew,” the ensemble—without Maupin, Zawinul, McLaughlin, Brooks, and White10—performed “Sanctuary,” a Wayne Shorter composition already recorded in a more gentle, sparser version by the second great quintet in February 1968, with George Benson on guitar. Following this, the full complement of twelve musicians tried their hands on two Zawinul compositions, “Pharaoh’s Dance” and “Orange Lady,” but these takes were rejected.

“Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” (the title was a reference to Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile”) was recorded the next day. In this case the previous performances of the live quintet of the track led to problems with the studio rhythm section. The addition of seven other musicians significantly altered the feel and dynamics of the piece, and Jack DeJohnette’s medium-tempo, fairly loose live groove didn’t appear to work.

“Lenny and Jack were playing and somehow things didn’t jell,” Don Alias explained. “I think Miles really wanted that Buddy Miles sound; he was just getting into the funk thing. He counted off the second time, and it wasn’t happening. I couldn’t take it any longer. I had been practicing this drum rhythm while I was in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. I’m sitting there thinking, ‘I’ve got the perfect rhythm for this tune.’ I can’t take it any longer and Miles is about to count off for the third time and I interrupted and said, ‘Miles, I’ve got this rhythm and I think it would go with the tune.’ So he said: ‘Go over and play it.’ I sat down and played it, and he said: ‘Show Jack—show Jack.’ And it’s one of those kind of rhythms where you don’t need any chops. Jack couldn’t get it, so Miles said to me: ‘Just stay there’ [on Lenny White’s drumset]. That’s how I ended up being one of the drumset players on ‘Miles Runs the Voodoo Down.’” 11

On the third and final recording day, White was back in his drum seat and Alias on congas. The 13th musician, Larry Young, was added to the ensemble on electric piano, creating once again a battery of three keyboard players, as on In a Silent Way. Two long tracks, “Spanish Key” and Zawinul’s “Pharaoh’s Dance,” were put to tape. Altogether, a wealth of material had been recorded over the three days.

“The sessions would go till about three or four in the afternoon, and once the three days were over we went to Miles’ house, and listened to all the unedited tapes,” White remembered. “Half a year later a record came out that was totally different, because they’d taken the front end of one tune and put that in the middle and so on. Basically Teo Macero had made a whole other thing out of it. I suspect that Miles said to Teo: ‘Go ahead and do what you think best,’ and that Miles then approved or disapproved what had been done.”

The tape editing on the two opening pieces of the album, “Pharaoh’s Dance” and the title track, is remarkably complex, and has a far-reaching effect on the music. In addition, Macero expanded his tool kit with studio effects like echo, reverb and slap (tape) delay, the latter courtesy of a machine called the Teo One, made by technicians at Columbia. This effect can most clearly be heard on the trumpet in the beginning section of “Bitches Brew” and “Pharaoh’s Dance” at 8:41.

Enrico Merlin’s research, as well the 1998 release of the four-CD boxed set The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions, have cast important new light on the album’s postproduction process. They show how Macero did not only use tape editing to glue together large musical sections, as on “Circle in the Round” or In a Silent Way, but extended his scope to editing tiny musical segments to create brand-new musical themes. Courtesy of both approaches, “Pharaoh’s Dance” contains an astonishing seventeen edits.12 Its famous stop-start opening theme was entirely constructed during postproduction, using repeat loops of 15- and 31-second fragments of tape, while thematic micro-edits occur between 8:53 and 9:00 where a one-second-long fragment appearing at 8:39 is repeated five times.

“I had carte blanche to work with the material,” Macero explained. “I could move anything around and what I would do is record everything, right from beginning to end, mix it all down and then take all those tapes back to the editing room and listen to them and say: ‘This is a good little piece here, this matches with that, put this here,’ etc, and then add in all the effects—the electronics, the delays and overlays. [I would] be working it out in the studio and take it back and re-edit it—front to back, back to front and the middle somewhere else and make it into a piece. I was a madman in the engineering room. Right after I’d put it together I’d send it to Miles and ask, ‘How do you like it?’ And he used to say, ‘That’s fine,’ or ‘That’s OK,’ or ‘I thought you’d do that.’ He never saw the work that had to be done on those tapes. I’d have to work on those tapes for four or five weeks to make them sound right.” 13

It appears that Macero found part of his inspiration for his postproduction treatments on Bitches Brew in classical music. The English composer Paul Buckmaster pointed out that on “Pharaoh’s Dance” and “Bitches Brew” the producer created structures that have echoes of the sonata form that was at the heart of late-18th- and 19th-century instrumental music. The basic elements of the sonata form, employed by composers like Mozart and Beethoven, are an opening exposition with two themes, a middle section called a development (in which the exposition material is worked through in many variations), a recapitulation (which contains a repetition of the two themes of the exposition), and a final coda.

In “Pharaoh’s Dance” the section 00:00 to 02:32 can be called the exposition, since it contains two basic themes, with theme number one first played between 00:00 and 00:15 and theme number two at 00:46. Starting at 02:32 is a solo section, or “development,” containing references to the material of the “exposition” at 02:54 and 07:55. A dramatic section is edited in between 08:29 and 08:42, with tape delay added to Miles’ horn, then repeated at 08:44 to 08:53, and followed by a one-second tape loop that repeats five times between 8:53 and 9:00. When Miles at long last plays Zawinul’s stirring main theme (referred to earlier in the track, but never actually played), at 16:38, it can be considered the coda.

The influence of the sonata form on the structure of “Bitches Brew” is not as clear-cut, but still apparent. Enrico Merlin’s analysis notes 15 edits in the piece, including (as in “Pharaoh’s Dance”) several short tape loops that create a new theme (in this case at 03:01, 03:07, 03:12, 03:17, and 03:27). Another section that leaps out at the listener is the tape loop from 10:36 to 10:52, where Macero creates excitement by looping a short trumpet phrase, making it sound like a precomposed theme. The section from 00:00 to 03:32 can be called the exposition, with the first theme appearing at 00:00 (the bass vamp) and at 00:41 (the corresponding melodic theme). The second theme is pasted in at 02:50. The development occurs between 03:32 and 14:36, with solos by Miles, McLaughlin, Shorter and Corea. At 14:36 there’s a recapitulation of the first theme, followed by another development, beginning at 17:20. The final recapitulation, a literal repeat of the first 02:50, can be interpreted as a coda.

Macero’s strong editorial involvement in “Pharaoh’s Dance” and “Bitches Brew,” as well as his selection of “John McLaughlin” for inclusion on the album, may well have to do with the fact that these were the tracks that had not been broken in by the live band. Miles most likely did not have a clear vision for the final structure. By contrast, “Spanish Key,” “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down,” and “Sanctuary,” had all been played live, giving Miles time to develop a functional structure. Only “Sanctuary” contains an edit, at 05:13, at which point Macero pasted in another take. It also seems likely that Macero was influenced in his edits by the form Miles had given to these three tracks, especially “Spanish Key,” which has a circular structure, with Miles stating the main theme at 00:36, 09:17 and 16:48, and the solo section containing several references to the main theme.

“There’s very little dialogue between Miles and myself,” Macero elaborated on his working relationship with Miles. “If we say 20 words in the course of a three-hour session, that’s a lot. But there’s no mystery. I spend as much time listening to it as he spent creating it. He may have gone over a composition in his mind, mentally, for weeks, and that’s exactly what I do when I listen to the tape. One thing about Miles and his music, in working with Miles you can experiment as much as you wish. You can take his music, you can cut it up, you can put the filters in, you can do anything you want to it as long as he knows who it is. I mean, he’s not going to let just anyone do it. I don’t take liberties on my own, unless I check with him. The final decision is up to the artist, because he has to live with the record.” 14

The genius of Macero’s editing on Bitches Brew, and his role in Miles’s electric music in general, can be compared to that of George Martin’s work with The Beatles. Like Martin, Macero often added a classical music sensibility to his protégé’s music, and worked with him over a long period of time (from 1958 to 1983). Yet his influence, especially in the case of Miles Davis, has not been widely recognized. 15

Publicly, Miles rarely acknowledged Macero’s role. He mentioned the producer just a few times in his autobiography, and only in passing. It’s not hard to suspect that this may have had to do with their love-hate relationship, exemplified by Miles’ refusal to talk to Macero for more than two years after the producer was involved in the release of Quiet Nights in 1964. Huge rows, as well as Macero’s assertion that their relationship was like “matrimony,”16 confirm the picture of a creatively fruitful, but personally tension-filled connection.

In Macero’s view, “Miles always wanted to take the credit for everything—on a lot of albums he didn’t want the names of the musicians on the cover.”17 Once, when Macero asked for a bonus, he claims that Miles responded, “I don’t think you deserve it. Anybody could have done it.”18 The most likely reason for Miles’ reluctance to openly credit Macero was that he saw at several stages during his life how white men would take, or be given, the credit for black men’s creative achievements. In his autobiography Miles stated, “Some people have written that doing Bitches Brew was Clive Davis’ [head of Columbia at the time] or Teo Macero’s idea. That’s a lie, because they didn’t have nothing to do with none of it. Again, it was white people trying to give some credit to other white people where it wasn’t deserved, because the record became a breakthrough concept, very innovative. They were going to rewrite history after the fact like they always do.”19 And in a 1973 interview Miles complained, “As long as I’ve been playing, they never say I done anything. They always say that some white guy did it.” 20 (This was the reason why he had the text “Directions in Music by Miles Davis” placed on the covers of Filles de Kilimanjaro and In a Silent Way. Bitches Brew was his last recording to carry the legend.)

But just like the enormous influence of George Martin doesn’t detract from the genius of The Beatles, emphasizing the importance of Macero in no way diminishes Miles’ greatness. In reality, the freedom Miles gave to Macero is an illustration of the trumpeter’s greatness. Many modern artists tend to want to control every aspect of record making, producing, and sometimes engineering their own albums. This does not necessarily lead to better results. Macero once noted, “Miles would leave it up to me to make all the fucking decisions. People today, they want to be producer, writer, they want to do everything. I’m saying, Jesus Christ, then do it yourself. Save yourself some money.”21

Great art has more chance of emerging when artists are acutely aware of their strengths and limitations. As an improvisational, here-and-now musician pur sang Miles did not have the inclination, the patience or the skills to get deeply involved in the time-consuming, laborious postproduction process. Moreover, one of Miles’ main strengths was the freedom he allowed the musicians with whom he worked. Delegating responsibility for the postproduction process to Macero reflects the same attitude. Given how sacrosanct music was to Miles, he must have trusted Macero deeply.

“Both of us have learned something from the things we’ve done together,” Macero remarked. “I learned from the standpoint of editing, shifting the compositions around. It’s a creative process being a producer with Miles. In fact, it’s more of a creative process than it is with any other artist. You have to know something about the music. You really need to be a composer, because for a lot of it he relies on you and your judgement. I’m going through them as a composer, Miles as a composer-musician-performer. You must be very creative along with the artist, because if you’re not as creative as he is—forget it.”22

It seems that Miles and Macero wanted to force attention on the collaborative nature of their work by placing the two most-edited and experimental tracks, “Pharaoh’s Dance” and “Bitches Brew,” at the beginning of the album. They are like a declaration of intent. Macero’s edits are not immediately apparent, but create a subliminal sense of both unrest and structure, something that’s initially hard to grasp, but immediately lifts the music out of the level of a jam. The edits are also successful in that they do not detract from the interaction between Miles and the ensemble. Although McLaughlin, the keyboardists, Maupin, Shorter and Holland all take solos, they are mixed in a way that makes them float momentarily on top of the brew. Unlike Miles, they do not rise above it. This has led some jazz critics to complain that Bitches Brew doesn’t really contain any solos, thereby not only missing the solos that were actually there, but more importantly the point that the musical essence of album is not about sequences of solos, but about the interplay between Miles and his ensemble.

Miles’ trumpet is mixed much further to the front, like a singer. This makes it possible to hear the strength and range of his playing, the way he phrases his notes and guided the other musicians. After five years of being pushed to his limit in the second great quintet, and being in good health, he was at the peak of his trumpet-playing powers. Miles’ sound is round, full and powerful, and the way he drives the ensemble with often declamatory phrases that have predominantly a rhythmic rather than a melodic function, is remarkable. A good example is his solo in “Pharaoh’s Dance” starting at 03:34, where he sounds like he’s wrestling, or perhaps boxing, with the band, pushing it, pulling it, steering it and creating constant tension and release. Rather than a soloist playing over changes, Miles creates contrast, interest and excitement in relation to a large mass of players that on their own could easily have sunk into amorphous anonymity.

Billy Cobham, an up-and-coming drummer at the time, played on the additional material on The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions.23 Cobham still had the sound of awe in his voice when he remembered: “Miles was just coming out of the greatest band that he’d ever had, the second great quintet, and his trumpet playing was at a peak. He always played the ultimate musical phrase, even if it wasn’t technically correct. It was unbelievable! When you listen to Freddie Hubbard you hear trumpet proficiency par excellence, and then you hear Miles and he had a way of taking what Freddie did and compacting it in five notes. Those five notes said it all. The air around them became musical, and the silence became more profound and important. You just don’t learn that. Miles somehow could just do that. He was like Merlin the magician. It was based on Miles’ innate ability to use space. Not playing became more important than playing. But it had to be the right spaces at the right time! It was uncanny how he’d play one note, and that note would carry through five or eight bars of changes. That note would be the note.”

A major piece of work by any definition, “Pharaoh’s Dance” was never performed live, and one wonders whether Miles had any doubts about the track’s success. The title track, on the other hand, was a staple of the live band for more than two years, until October of 1971. It was invariably played at about half the length of the album time (26:58), thereby raising the issue of the extreme length of the two opening tracks of the album. (“Pharaoh’s Dance” clocks in at 20:05.) There are two ways of looking at this. If one relates to the music as an “abstract,” ambient atmosphere, a jungle environment that one can enter and roam, the length of these tracks becomes a significant aspect of their attraction. But from a more traditional, figurative perspective, in which the focus is on solos, themes, grooves, variety, development, “Pharaoh’s Dance” and “Bitches Brew” are too long, and would both work better if cut substantially. The drastic cut in the length of “Bitches Brew” during live performances was partly due the smaller size of the live band, but also suggests that Miles shared this opinion.

As with “Circle in the Round,” Macero’s editing was only partly successful. This is demonstrated by “John McLaughlin,” the outtake from the track “Bitches Brew.” It is only 04:22 long and sustains interest from beginning to end, making it a good example of how this music works in a much tighter format. Moreover, the major tracks that weren’t edited, “Spanish Key” and “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down,” are much more focused, and contain Miles’ best solos. “Spanish Key,” a revisiting of the Spanish influences Miles had explored on Sketches of Spain and “Flamenco Sketches” on Kind of Blue, is a flowing, fluent boogie based around several different scales and tonal centers. Enrico Merlin has pointed out that the track employs what he calls “coded phrases,” meaning musical cues with which the band is steered towards the next musical section. “[The] modulations are always initiated by the soloist who performs a phrase in the new key, thus signaling his own wish to change the tonal center,” Merlin wrote. “This device was used for the first time in ‘Flamenco Sketches.’ I believe that Davis was trying, and he succeeded brilliantly, to adapt the idea of ‘Flamenco Sketches’ to the musical experimentation of that time [the late ’60s].”24 Sweltering and riveting throughout, “Spanish Key” would have been even stronger had it ended around thirteen minutes, when the music appears to come to a natural halt. “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” is probably the most successful track on Bitches Brew, courtesy of a beautiful, deep bass line, Alias’ slow-burning, driving New Orleans drum groove, a tight structure, and excellent solos by Miles, McLaughlin, Shorter and Zawinul. It remained a favorite of live performance until August 1970. Finally, the version of “Sanctuary” on Bitches Brew is expressive and muscular, but lacks the subtlety of the first recording with the second great quintet in February of 1968.

Regardless of how the quality of the music on Bitches Brew is judged, it is important to recognize the astonishing concoction of influences that had gone into Miles’ cauldron. Miles had combined improvisational working methods that he developed in the late ’50s with musical influences such as rock, folk, soul and African music. Moreover, the ensemble’s collective improvisation, based on the working methods developed by the second great quintet, and the call-and-response structure between Miles and the ensemble, both find their roots in early jazz. In his autobiography Miles likened Bitches Brew’s collective improvisations to the jam sessions he attended at Minton’s in Harlem in the late ’40s. Like many writers, Miles also made comparisons between the recording’s kaleidoscopic sound world and the noises of New York City. Then, in the words of Lenny White, he mixed in a “dash” of this musician and that composer, not only skillfully blending their qualities, but also enlarging jazz and rock’s sonic palette with bass clarinet and extensive percussion. Both were novel sounds in jazz and rock music around 1969.

To this explosive mixture Teo Macero added mid-20th-century studio trickery, a 19th-century classical music awareness of musical structure, and a way of looking at music as abstract blocks of sound, which he freely cut and moved around. In other words, the two most heavily edited tracks on Bitches Brew were hybrids of figurative and abstract art. They combined, respectively, the traditional musical line of something akin to a sonata form with the cut-and-paste ideas that had come out of musique concrète, serial music and studio technology, which later influenced ambient and dance music. Add to this the strongly chromatic improvising of the keyboard players, which has echoes of classical atonal music, and it is clear that an impressive amount of influences went into the making of Bitches Brew. This is no doubt one of the major reasons for the recording’s immense success and influence. Virtually anyone willing to listen to it with an open mind is able to recognize something familiar in the music, despite the fact that it contains few easily identifiable melodies, hooks or vamps.

Bitches Brew encompasses about every musical polarity of the late ’60s, whether jazz and rock, classical and African, improvised and notated music, live playing and postproduction editing. Its greatness lies in how it managed to bridge these polarities, including and transcending all the disparate ingredients into a completely new whole, and ended up with much more than the sum of its components. Bitches Brew explores a new, intangible musical universe, and any attempt to fully explain or define its concept and its music will inevitably diminish it to some degree. If one must find a label for the music, Lenny White probably had a good stab at it when he called it “African-American classical music—a combination of the harmonic language developed in the West over several hundreds of years, played from an African-American perspective, with an African-American approach to rhythm.”

How Bitches Brew opened up a new, unknown musical paradigm is humorously illustrated by an anecdote told by Joe Zawinul that mirrors John McLaughlin’s incomprehension during the In a Silent Way sessions. The keyboardist had been so baffled by the Bitches Brew sessions that he didn’t even recognize the resulting music when he heard it later in another context. “I didn’t really like the sessions at the time, “Zawinul reminisced. “I didn’t think they were exciting enough. But a short while later I was at the CBS offices, and a secretary was playing this incredible music. It was really smoking. So I asked her, ‘Who the hell is this?’ And she replied, ‘It’s that Bitches Brew thing.’ I thought, Damn, that’s great.”25

Of course, the recording also had its era on its side. The late ’60s and early ’70s were full of music that people didn’t necessarily understand, but that made them feel alive, that spoke to them. It was a time when audiences were prepared to go out of their way to enjoy the unusual and the controversial. The energy and mystery of the music, the title, the eye-catching and ultra-hip cover and the stream-of-consciousness liner notes by Ralph J. Gleason all perfectly expressed the zeitgeist. All elements came together in one seamless package, and the effect was powerful: The recording sold 400,000 copies in its first year, and earned Miles a Grammy for “Best Jazz Performance, Soloist with Large Group.” As a result, Gleason’s showy words sounded prescient rather than hyped-up: “This music will change the world like Cool and Walkin’ did and now that communication is faster and more complete it may change it more deeply and quickly.”26

In addition to the music recorded during August of 1969, The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions also contains material from sessions in November of 1969, and January and February of 1970. The total amount of music is dramatically extended from the 94 minutes of the original album to almost 266 minutes. Some of the additional material had already been issued on the albums Big Fun, Circle in the Round and Live-Evil, but there are also nine previously unreleased tracks, totaling about 86 minutes of music.

Macero was invited by Columbia/ Sony to participate in the creation of the boxed set, but declined after a first meeting. The long collaboration between Miles and Macero created a deep bond between the two men, and it’s understandable that since Miles’ passing, Macero sees himself as a custodian of his legacy. In assuming this role he has loudly declared to anyone who wanted to listen that he disagrees with the way Sony/Columbia is reissuing the Miles Davis back catalog in general, and The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions in particular. He boldly stated that “Miles Davis would never have agreed to the unreleased material being released, nor to the way the original material has been remixed and remastered,” and that’s to quote one of his milder exhortations. Macero has also supported the argument that the boxed set is a misnomer.

The original Bitches Brew sessions took place over the course of three days in August of 1969, and were complete in themselves. It appears a commercially inspired stretch to include material recorded several months later, with different personnel and a radically different musical feel, and declare it part of the Bitches Brew sessions. Reissue producer Bob Belden and executive producer Michael Cuscuna have reason to argue in the boxed set that Miles entered a new musical phase in March of 1970, when he started to work with a small, guitar-based group. However, the boxed set, awarded another Grammy in 1999 for “Best Boxed Recording Package,” could have been called something like The Bitches Brew Era, since the additional material can easily be seen as a phase in itself, typified by the addition of Indian instruments like sitar, tamboura and tabla. Most of this material has a pastoral atmosphere completely at odds with the storm of the original Bitches Brew sessions.

With regard to the issues that Macero raised concerning remixing and remastering, much of the Miles Davis music issued on CD by Sony during the late ’90s has undergone this process, including all four boxed sets released to date. The triple-Grammy winning Miles Davis & Gil Evans: The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings, as well as Miles Davis & John Coltrane: The Complete Columbia Recordings, 1955–1961, were remixed from three tracks, and The Miles Davis Quintet, 1965–1968 from four tracks by Sony staff engineer Mark Wilder. The small amount of tracks meant that Wilder’s freedom to change the nature of the music was limited. However, Bitches Brew was recorded on eight-track, and involved multitudes of complex edits and intricate sound effects. This made it more difficult to reconstruct the original version in a remix, and gave the remixer much more freedom to impose his own vision. In addition, some of the original effect equipment, like the Teo One, was not available anymore, making an exact replication even harder. Finally, Wilder and Belden decided to make some fundamental changes to the sound and nature of the mix, leaving themselves open to accusations similar to those aimed at one time at the restorers of the Sistine Chapel.

“Let me make clear that when Sony told me that they wanted me to recreate the whole album, I knew immediately that we couldn’t do any tinkering or release alternative takes or extend pieces,” Belden explained in response. “I did not want to play Teo Macero. Instead, we wanted the boxed set to flow seamlessly. That is why we had to remix all the material. The two-track masters for the original Bitches Brew album were in bad shape, and there was a lot of disparity between them and the other material, whereas the previously unreleased stuff had not been mixed at all. Moreover, for the original LP they boosted the bottom and cut out the high end, taking out a lot of clarity. We put that clarity back in. We also decided to try to recreate what the musicians would have heard in the studio. There were always two distinct Fender Rhodes players, so we wanted to make sure that Chick Corea was always on the right and the guest on the left. That gives a sense of continuity. And we wanted to bring out the sound of Miles’ trumpet and make it sound more in the pocket, the way you would have heard it during studio playbacks. We wanted to bring out the natural interplay between the musicians. At the same time we followed Teo’s edits as faithfully as we could.”

“Of course it’s much more of a challenge to remix eight-tracks,” Wilder agreed. “But I was able to get a very accurate approximation of the original mixes. We tried to pay homage to Teo’s original edits and mixes as much as we could, but we also tried to bring out the musicality of the sessions. Those guys played some killing stuff that got a little lost in the technology of the mix and the postproduction. So yes, we tried to create a feeling of people playing music together. The musicality of what occurred during these sessions was paramount for us, and we wanted to remove some of the original mix technology to bring this out. They had made some very wild fader movements during the mix that we couldn’t replicate anyway. But at the same time there are those signature things that were done during the mix, the slap [tape] echoes on Miles’ trumpet, that we tried to replicate as best as we could. We would run my mixes and edits against the original LP version, and sometimes we’d compare with my version in one speaker and the original in the other to make sure that there were no edits that we had missed or mistimed. We worked amazingly hard on this.”

Phrases like “removing some of the original mix technology” or “recreate what the musicians would have heard in the studio” will alarm purists. But as always, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and from this perspective the work of Belden and Wilder is more than vindicated. All original edits are retained (although the new version of “Pharaoh’s Dance” curiously loses four seconds that were in the original version, 08:29 to 08:33) and the instrumental balance of the mixes on The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions does not sound significantly different from those of the original album. The sound is greatly improved, however, displaying more aliveness, depth, and detail, partly because the Dolby that suppressed the high end (as well as the hiss) in the original is removed. There’s a pleasant roundness to the new sound that was missing in the sometimes thin and abrasive-sounding original.

Belden and Wilder also succeeded in their aim of bringing out the interplay between the musicians. The improved high end especially has added a transparency that makes it easier to distinguish between the various percussion instruments, and to imagine oneself in the studio with the musicians. It seems like a cloud has lifted from the recordings, and some extra hiss is a small price to pay. Macero strongly criticized the new mixes, complaining that Miles sounded only “one inch tall,” but the overall consensus, including from the musicians who played on the sessions, is that the new mixes sound excellent. The parallel with the restoration of the Sistine Chapel that appears apt is that of the brighter colors that emerged, which initially shocked traditionalists.

The additional material included in The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions begins with four tracks recorded on November 19. Wayne Shorter was replaced by the eighteen-year-old saxophonist Steve Grossman, Dave Holland with Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette with Billy Cobham. Guest musicians Bennie Maupin, Harvey Brooks and John McLaughlin returned, and Herbie Hancock sat in as second keyboard player. Miles also added the exotic sounds of Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira, plus Khalil Balakrishna on sitar and Bihari Sharma on tabla. Corea was the only musician from the live band at these sessions, and there is some historical confusion with regards to the reasons.

In his autobiography, Miles stated that Wayne Shorter left the band “in late fall 1969” and that he then “broke up the band to find replacements.”27 This is incorrect, because Shorter played with the live band until early March of 1970. Miles’ assertion that Shorter had “told me ahead of time when he was leaving” and that he wanted to try out new musicians (thereby adding to his growing list of stock company players) was probably closer to the mark.

The size of the band may suggest a direct line to the Bitches Brew sessions three months earlier, but the introduction of the Brazilian and Indian elements took things into a totally different direction. Indian music influences had become popular in the late ‘60s, mainly through The Beatles’ and the counterculture’s interest in Eastern mysticism, and sitars were occasionally employed in Western popular music, especially psychedelic rock. Miles was one of the few jazz musicians who did more than just flirt with this influence, and Indian instruments intermittently played an important part in his music from 1969 to 1973.

During this stage in his career Miles appeared almost obsessed with incorporating as many disparate musical influences as possible, seemingly using anything or anyone he could lay his hands on. The question has often been asked whether Miles had a vision for the end result or was just randomly throwing things into his cauldron, and was as surprised by the results as anyone else.

“I think that Miles definitely had a vision,” Dave Holland commented. “But when you put together improvised music, you’re dealing with musicians and their approach and style of playing. One of the things I learnt from Miles is that you don’t come in with a fixed vision. The vision is there, but it is not finished. The composition a classical composer writes is finished, and all musicians do is interpret it. Improvised music is different. Part of your palette is the musicians you’re working with, and so with this group it will come out one way, and with that group it will come out another way. So if you ask me, ‘Did Miles have a vision?’ I’ll say ‘Yes.’ But ask, ‘Did he know what the end result would sound like?’ and I’d have to say ‘No.’ He couldn’t. When he was putting something together, he was listening and selecting what he liked. To me this is the great art of putting together improvised music. Miles worked in the tradition where you create a form that’s clear, but that also has enough room for the musicians to be creative with. Miles was giving us a context for the music, and then we found what we could do within that context.”

Still, throwing different musicians together to see what will happen is a risky approach, and this was demonstrated in a series of failures. The track “Great Expectations,” recorded on November 19, is an example. It was first released on Big Fun in 1974, and has a structure similar to that of “Nefertiti” in June of 1967, with a repeating main melody underpinned by an ever-varying drum section. The bass relentlessly plays a rock riff not dissimilar to that of “Peter Gunn,” and the Brazilian and Indian elements add some color and variation. But it’s not enough to save the rather dreary and repetitive effort, which is weak on the figurative side (an unengaging melody and little melodic development) and offers little on the abstract side (the atmosphere is feeble and unfocused).

Zawinul’s “Orange Lady,” recorded on the same day and also first released on Big Fun, is better, partly because the melodic line is more interesting, and partly because it is reasonably successful as a tone poem, an exercise in creating a mood. The other two tracks recorded during this session were previously unreleased, and, as Macero argued, with good reason. “Yaphet” sounds like it starts where “Orange Lady” left off, meanders for nearly 10 minutes, and adds nothing significant whatsoever. “Corrado” is no more than a directionless 13-minute jam. Apart from Miles’ incisive playing, it has no engaging features.

Things didn’t get much better at the next session nine days later on November 28, with a similar ensemble. Organist Larry Young joined Hancock and Corea, and possibly to inject some energy from tried-and-tested elements, Miles reinstated his live band rhythm section: Holland played bass, and DeJohnette was on drums next to Cobham. The previously unreleased “Trevere” is a kernel of an idea that never takes off, and halfway through the band comes to a halt, from the sound of it because they had no clue where to take things next.

The same problems also apply to “The Big Green Serpent,” which is basically a group of musicians trying out an idea and getting nowhere. Belden sounds almost apologetic about the inclusion of “The Little Blue Frog,” and its alternate take (“A jam in G. That’s all it really is. Just a jam.”28 but at least the musicians sound as if they’re having fun, and McLaughlin and the rhythm section lay down a satisfactory groove. A 02:42 section of “The Little Blue Frog” was released as a single in the United States in April of 1970, before the release of Bitches Brew, and in France in 1973, and must have left listeners completely at a loss. “What were they (and who were they?) thinking?”29 indeed.

The question arises why these two sessions were such failures. One explanation may be the shooting incident that occurred in October of 1969. The Birdland affair in August of 1959, when Miles had been beaten and arrested by two New York police officers, had shown how devastating the impact of extramusical dramas on Miles’ musical progress could be. It abruptly cut short the rising creative curve that culminated in Kind of Blue and marked the beginnings of a three-and-a-half-year creative wasteland. Although less directly related to racial issues, and therefore emotionally less close to the bone, the episode in October of 1969 was shocking enough, and it would not be surprising if it caused a creative dip in the months following.

In Miles’ memory, he and Marguerite Eskridge were unexpectedly shot at when they were talking and kissing in front of her apartment.30 Eskridge remembered the incident differently. “Miles was playing at the Blue Coronet Club in Brooklyn,” she recounted. “He had supposedly been getting calls that he should not be playing there unless he booked through a particular agency. I had a premonition that night at the club that something was going to happen. At one stage I literally felt blood trickling down the side of my face, even though I was never shot. After the gig Miles drove me home in his Ferrari, and he kept looking in the rearview mirror. At one point he said, ‘There’s a gypsy cab following us.’ He tried to lose it a few times, and then we pulled in next to the building where I lived in Brooklyn. A few moments later he saw the car coming in from the rear, and said, ‘Duck down.’ We both ducked. At that point a lot of shots were fired from the car, and then it drove away. We were still sitting in the car because I had been taking my time pulling out my keys and everything. If I had gotten right out and gotten up to the outside door I would have been standing unprotected, and I would clearly have been shot. Miles had been grazed slightly at his side, a bullet had gone through his leather jacket. The car had trapped a lot of the bullets. We went to the hospital and at about 5 a.m. the police came out and read me my rights! I mean, we were the victims! They wouldn’t say what we were being charged for, but they took us to the police station, and then finally I found out that they believed that there was marijuana in the car. Later on, all charges were dropped because they found that it was nothing but herbal teas.”

Miles said that he had been shot at because some black promoters were angry with him for using white promoters to do his bookings, but saxophonist Dave Liebman claimed it was the result of a drug deal gone wrong. “He was definitely involved in something, you know—questionable characters that’s for sure.”31 The unfounded suspicions of the police also give this story a race-related slant, and may well have heightened the impact the incident had on Miles. Whatever its background, in the end the link between the shooting and the failure of the November sessions is speculative. If we are to look for musical reasons, a possible explanation is that the many new, young musicians felt inhibited by Miles’ presence, and disorientated by his unorthodox working methods.

“When [the musicians] are in that studio it’s like God coming—oh, oh, here he comes,” Macero recalled. “They stop talking, they don’t fool around, they tend to business and they listen, and when he stops, they stop. He is the teacher, he is the one who’s sort of pulling the strings. He’s the professor. He’s the God that they look up to and they never disagreed, to my knowledge, in the studio. If they did, they got a goddamn drumstick over their head, and I’ve seen that happen, too.”32

“As far as I was concerned, all the people around me were light years ahead of what I was capable of doing,” Cobham explained. “So all I could do was shut up and absorb and hope that something would stick. For me it was like school time, ten times graduate school. Far beyond any institution. Everything was experimentation. There was not one moment when whatever was on a piece of paper was not changed. That’s why there were no stems on the notes. Nothing was tied. There might be three notes and then a space and then four tones, and then a space, and then two notes. You’d have to generally know how it was phrased, but it didn’t necessarily mean that it was going to stay like that. His instructions were very minimal, almost Zen. He would give me very little to work with. The very rare times he talked to me, it was something like: ‘I need something from you. Give me something between the Latin and the jazz vein.’ I was blown away by the fact that he even acknowledged that he liked what I did. I was just like, eyes open, ears open, absorbing as much as I could.”

Cobham clearly was in awe, and this feeling was shared by several of the other new musicians, possibly causing them to play inhibited. Miles’ darker side was surely a contributing factor. According to many eyewitnesses he could be ruthless in the way he handled people, taking advantage of them if they allowed it, testing them to see how far he could go. He respected those who stood up to him, but musicians who couldn’t, didn’t last long. For this reason some musicians were not only in awe, but actively scared of him.

“His perceptions of people were so intuitive,” explained Lydia DeJohnette, “In one second he would know who you were and what you wanted. And if he felt where you were coming from wasn’t centered, if you couldn’t look him in the eye, if he didn’t think he could treat you as an equal, he would just put you away. He could destroy people emotionally.”

“There was always a lot of magic in working with him,” Jack DeJohnette added. “Always a lot of challenges. You always had to be prepared for the unexpected. You had to be on your toes and alert. He kept you thinking all the time, and that was fun. You never knew what was going to happen, and that made it exciting, but also very challenging. Personally I was never afraid of Miles, but I’ve seen people who were. He had a bitter side and a very loving side. He was a visionary and very intuitive, and he could read people like he could read music. He immediately knew your vulnerabilities and could press your buttons.”

Steve Grossman elaborated on the same theme when he remarked that, even though it was an incredible break for him to be playing with Miles at such a young age, it was also nerve-racking. “Miles was just such a great person and very encouraging. He really tried to make me feel at ease. But he was one of my favorite musicians since I was eight years old, so it was difficult. Also, I was used to playing straightahead jazz and to suddenly go into this environment where everyone had a lot more experience, I would say I was inhibited.”

“I was terrified for the first month,” Airto Moreira recalled.<33 Billy Cobham commented, “I was never scared of Miles, but I was intimidated by his presence. Miles would sometimes try and see how far he could go with you. If he thought he could break your nose and you wouldn’t respond, he would do it. Just to see what would happen. I was never that unfortunate to experience that kind of stuff, but I’ve seen him intimidate people to some degree. Of course, it had a rippling effect throughout the music. The music always is a sincere sonic mirror of what happened in the social environment in which it is played. And so some people would play—scared of Miles.”

The air of danger and the unexpected that always hung around Miles was one way in which he kept his musicians on their toes, fully alive to the present moment and to music. But it could be counterproductive. Perhaps this was the case in November of 1969, when several of the new musicians played “inhibited,” and/or “scared of Miles.” A pointer in this direction is the fact that the following sessions, on January 27 and 28 and February 6, were far superior. The new musicians may well have become accustomed to Miles’ presence, gaining in confidence, and daring to open up more. In addition, Miles seemed to have come to the conclusion that the experiments with a large group of musicians had run their course, because his studio ensembles were getting smaller, and the music better.

On January 27, 1970, Grossman was absent and Shorter returned on soprano sax, Zawinul replaced Hancock and Young, and McLaughlin, Brooks and Sharma were dropped. This reduced the ensemble from 14 to 10 players. “Lonely Fire,” first released on Big Fun, starts in a similar ambient mood as “Orange Lady.” Zawinul’s theme sets up a powerful atmosphere, and is repeated over and over again with the rhythm section playing variations underneath, as in “Nefertiti” and “Great Expectations.” “Lonely Fire” threatens to meander too long for its own good as a tone poem, but entices again when Holland embarks on a driving rhythm around the 11-minute mark, with Chick Corea throwing in Eastern-sounding scales. It works, but it’s not a great track, and overly long at more than 21 minutes.

“Guinnevere” was first released in 1979 as part of the Circle in the Round set. A composition by David Crosby of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, it is another showcase for Miles’ interest in American folk music. Little happens in the 21-minute-long track, and for much of the time the melody is played over a very slow four-note bass line. But the atmosphere is nevertheless gripping, probably due to the focus and simplicity of the playing. Contrary to the music on the two sessions in November, the musicians sound as if they’re playing with a unified purpose. It may be a “period piece,”34 but its pastoral atmosphere still carries some power decades later.

The session of January 28, with the same group as the day before, but with McLaughlin instead of Balakrishna, was another improvement. Perhaps Miles also felt that his compositional ideas had not been giving him the results he wanted, because for this session and the session of February 6, he did not use his own material, but tried his hand at one composition by Shorter, and four by Zawinul.

Shorter’s “Feio” is performed in a similar way as “Guinnevere,” with Holland playing a slow, three-note bass line, the horns somberly blowing the top line, and the spaces being filled up by drums, Moreira’s percussion, and some screaming electric guitar splashes by McLaughlin. It works still better than “Guinnevere,” perhaps because the track is only half as long, and McLaughlin, Moreira, and DeJohnette create considerable interest as well as a potent atmosphere. Zawinul’s “Double Image” completed the day’s work in a version that’s more straightforward and less raw than the one recorded on February 6 and released in 1971 on Live-Evil.

On February 6 Bennie Maupin was replaced by a sitar player, not credited on The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions, but named as Balakrishna on the liner notes for Live-Evil. Suddenly and inexplicably everything fell into place. The track “Recollections,” based on a Zawinul folk composition not dissimilar to “In a Silent Way,” is simply gorgeous. It is beautifully executed, with a similarly compelling, frozen-in-time atmosphere as Miles’ version of said song, all the musicians perfectly aligned with each other, and McLaughlin plays some graceful and elegant folk-influenced fills that are very different from the stabbing staccato riffs that sharpened “In a Silent Way.” “Recollections” is among the most pastoral pieces Miles ever recorded and entirely successful as an ambient piece of music. The same applies to the short “Take It or Leave It,” actually the middle section of Zawinul’s “In a Silent Way.”

Finally, the version of “Double Image” recorded on this day is a triumph. The rhythm is opened up from the fairly standard way it had been played when the same track was recorded a week earlier and transformed into a funky stop-start affair, with a screaming electric guitar filling the gaps. It’s a format that Miles would explore several times during the early ’70s. Although there is still a lot of improvisation going on, the role of the rhythm section is tightly circumscribed. The track is more firmly in rock territory than anything Miles had done up to this point, echoing rock avant-garde rather than free jazz. This is the first sign of Miles formulating a new, rockier, guitar-centered studio direction, which he would bring to fruition in the months following on A Tribute to Jack Johnson.

Endnotes

1. Carlos Santana, “Remembering Miles and Bitches Brew,” in The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions (Columbia/Legacy, 1998): 7–8.

2. Tomlinson, “Musical Dialogician,” in Kirchner, Miles Davis Reader, 247.

3. Greg Hall. “Teo: The Man Behind the Scene,” Down Beat, (July 1974): 14.

4. Quincy Troupe, “Overview Essay—Bitches Brew,” in The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions, 92.

5. Hall, “Man Behind the Scene,” 14.

6. Davis and Troupe, Miles, 302.

7. Ibid., 289.

8. Ouellette, “Bitches Brew,” 34. Miles also claimed in his autobiography to have met and been influenced by Paul Buckmaster, an English composer and cellist with a classical music background who was exploring jazz and rock at the time. However, Buckmaster does not remember meeting Miles until November 1, 1969, after the trumpeter’s concert at Hammersmith Odeon in London. Given that the Bitches Brew sessions happened two-and-a-half months earlier, it is difficult to see how the then little-known Buckmaster could have influenced Miles. Miles must have misconstrued the sequence of events in his memory. These inconsistencies demonstrate that not everything the book contains can unquestionably be accepted as the definitive truth.

9. Davis and Troupe, Miles, 289–290.

10. Lenny White claimed that he played on this new version, but only Jack DeJohnette is credited, and the aural evidence only reveals one drummer.

11. Bob Belden, “Session-by-Session Analysis,” The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions, (Columbia/Legacy, 1998): 125.

12. Strangely, Bob Belden’s annotations in The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions make mention of nineteen edits, but only list sixteen in the detailed editing chart (see page 129). Enrico Merlin distinguishes seventeen edits in his sessionography, page 335. Incidentally, all track timings in this chapter refer to The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions.

13. Joel Lewis, “Running the Voodoo Down,” The Wire (December 1994): 24.

14. Hall, “Man Behind the Scene,” 14–15.

15. This may be the reason Teo Macero displayed a certain bitterness upon reaching old-age--he “knows how to hold a grudge” noted Eric Olsen et al in The Encyclopedia of Record Producers (see page 485)--and why he refused to be interviewed unless paid substantial sums of money. Although he graciously took this writer out for lunch and answered some brief questions over the phone, since no funds were available, many valuable observations and anecdotes sadly remained off the record.

16. Hall, “Miles: Today’s Most Influential Contemporary Musician,” Down Beat (July 1974): 14.

17. Lewis, “Voodoo Down,” 24.

18. Eric Olsen et al, Encyclopedia of Record Producers, 486.

19. Davis and Troupe, Miles, 290.

20. Davis, “Good Rhythm Section,” in Carner, Miles Davis Companion, 155.

21. Olsen et al, Encyclopedia of Record Producers, 487.

22. Hall, “Man Behind the Scene,” 13.

23. There has been some controversy around Billy Cobham’s claims that he played on the original Bitches Brew sessions, something that was hotly denied by Lennie White. When asked about this, Cobham answered that he felt that the whole issue was blown out of all proportion, because he’s not sure what sessions he played on at all. Apparently Miles gave him a copy of Bitches Brew with his compliments. Since the album came out several months after the November 1969 and January and February 1970 sessions, of which Cobham had been a part, and the music was radically altered through editing, the drummer genuinely believed for a long time that he had played on the original album. Mindful of how Joe Zawinul did not recognize Bitches Brew when it was played to him, such confusions are understandable. Many musicians had no idea on which sessions they had actually played, and when and whether and how the material was released. Cobham also doesn’t remember playing triangle, although he is credited as having played the instrument on the session of February 6, 1970. As so often, the mists of time appear to have covered a lot of historical detail.

24. Merlin elaborated on his concept of “coded phrases” in a lecture called “Code MD: Coded Phrases in the First ‘Electric Period,’” which was given during a conference called Miles Davis and American Culture II, at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, on May 10 and 11, 1996. A transcript, including musical examples and a details analysis of “Spanish Key,” is available on Pete Losin’s Miles Ahead site, at www.wam.umd.edu/
~losinp/music/code_md.html

25. Ouellette, “Bitches Brew,” 37.

26. Ralph J. Gleason, “Original LP Liner Notes to Bitches Brew,” in The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions, (Columbia/Legacy, 1998): 35.

27. Davis and Troupe, Miles, 301.

28. Belden, “Session-by-Session Analysis,” 135.

29. Ibid., 135.

30. Davis and Troupe, Miles, 296–297.

31. Fisher, Davis and Liebman, 78.

32. Hall, “Man Behind the Scene,” 15.

33. Lee Underwood, “Airto and his Incredible Gong Show,” Down Beat, (April 1978): 16; quoted by Chambers, Milestones, 192.

34. James Isaacs, liner notes for CD re-issue of Circle in the Round, (Columbia, 1979): 9.

Originally published in May 2001

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