Miles Davis: Bitches Brew Live

Miles Davis circa 1970 image 0

Miles Davis circa 1970

If not for Miles Davis’ funk/R&B grooves and electric-jazz wilding of the late ’60s, then, yes, no subsequent superstar fusion bands, most of which were formed by players who had worked under the tutelage of the Prince of Darkness. Listeners who missed out on the first flowering of fusion might appreciate another comparison: No Bitches Brew, no jazzy jam bands, like Medeski, Martin and Wood and its groove-crazy brethren.

For veteran and novice Miles listeners alike, Bitches Brew Live, featuring musicians heard on the landmark albums In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, is a reminder of the sheer intensity of the trumpeter’s bands of that era, of the raw, rock-infused power he orchestrated. His quartet with Chick Corea, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette is heard on three previously unreleased tracks recorded at the 1969 Newport Jazz Festival. “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” has the leader bouncing off Corea’s fierce electric piano stabs, with the rhythm section relentlessly pushing forward (Holland’s acoustic bass is consistently under-recorded). “Sanctuary,” by Wayne Shorter, who missed the gig because he was stuck in traffic, is all artful starts and stops and elastic rhythms, while “It’s About That Time” takes the group back to full boil.

One summer later, with the same band augmented by saxophonist Gary Bartz, Keith Jarrett on organ and percussionist Airto Moreira, Miles gave the 600,000-strong Isle of Wight crowd, on hand to see the likes of Jimi Hendrix and The Who, some instrumental music to remember. “Bitches Brew,” edged with electronic effects, morphs into deep, grinding funk, which is also at the heart of “Spanish Key”-that track offering fertile solo space to Bartz. The closing “The Theme” is a mocking, anarchic, dirge-speed version of the usually zippy tune, a traditional set closer for Miles. It all leaves the crowd wanting more.