Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

This is the 1st of your 3 free articles

Become a member for unlimited website access and more.

FREE TRIAL Available!

Learn More

Already a member? Sign in to continue reading

Miles Davis: Black Beauty: Miles Davis At Fillmore West

JazzTimes may earn a small commission if you buy something using one of the retail links in our articles. JazzTimes does not accept money for any editorial recommendations. Read more about our policy here. Thanks for supporting JazzTimes.

No question, Miles Davis is one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. For over decades, from his birthing of “cool” jazz through his groundbreaking works with Gil Evans, to his ’60s quintet, to his ’80s-’90s pop/go-go/hip hop final phase, Miles was a colossus; always vital and more than a little ahead of his peers. No stranger to controversy, Miles endured the most flack from fans and critics alike for his jazz-rock explorations during the ’70s-his so-called “lost” period.

Scrapping his quintet in late ’68, Miles was out to create a new band that rocked like Hendrix, partied like Sly and funked like James Brown. 1969’s Bitches Brew would be the key and live sets would be the opened door to a new mansion of audio constructs. Thanks to the timely reissue of five live recordings-Black Beauty, Live-Evil, At Fillmore, Live In Concert and Dark Magus-his transition from the standard jazz paradigm (which he set) of structured tunes, solos, instrumentation and time limitations to a revolutionary, free-form construct of rock dynamics, Afro-Asian tonal rhythms, space/time conundrums and continuums, electrified atmospherics and elastic, blue-black funk can now be fully appreciated.

The first two sets, Black Beauty and At Fillmore find Miles and Co. (Steve Grossman, soprano; Jack DeJohnette, drums; Dave Holland, electric bass; Chick Corea, Rhodes; Keith Jarrett, Rhodes/organ, Airto; (percussion) in a volatile state of molten flux, expanding, shredding and spinning off of Brew’s tunes in an acrobatic display of without-a-net aplomb. As good as they are, these records are almost a dress rehearsal for the oeuvre-defining gig that was to be Live-Evil.

A seamless mixture of studio and live (Cellar Door, Washington, D.C., 12/18/70) trax, Live-Evil is Miles’ true electric rite of passage. The dark, brooding clash of skronky guitars/sitars, acoustic/electric piano and bass, tenor/alto/soprano saxes, percussions, trumpet and wah wah of the studio trax are a red herring-the real evolution is in the live stuff. Fired up by ex-Stevie Wonder bassist Michael Henderson, John McLaughlin’s guitar and Gary Bartz’s alto/soprano, the band smokes. From the Ray Charles-jams-with-Jimi-and-James Jamerson-at-Ornette’s-crib workout of “What I Say” to the Ritalin-spiked Memphis soul stew of “Funky Tonk” (nascent On The Corner vibe), Live-Evil is Davis’ dusk and new dawn.

By the time he recorded In Concert in September of ’72, Miles’ sound was fully transformed. With Carlos Garnett (soprano/tenor), Cedric Lawson (keyboards), Reggie Lucas (guitar), Khalil Balakrishna (electric sitar), Henderson (bass), Al Foster (drums), Badal Roy (tabla) and Mtume (percussion) in his cipher, Davis became a spiritual Hendrix with his own cosmic band of gypsies. Here, 12-bar blues vamps dance with staccato ragas, African beats slap hips with psychedelic funk, kinky electrons collide with warped ions; chaos as a controlled catalyst. A visionary performance, In Concert predicts hip hop (“Rated X”‘s bassline=”White Lines”), Ornette’s Prime Time (“Black Satin”) and Talking Heads (“Ife”).

Dark Magus (recorded in March, 1974 at N.Y.C.’s Carnegie Hall) is tomorrow’s sound yesterday. Fronting a new lineup that augmented the Foster-Henderson-Mtume rhythm axis with Dave Leibman (soprano/flute/tenor), Azar Lawrence (tenor), Hendrix-savant Pete Cosey, Dominique Gaumont and Lucas (guitars), Davis conjured up a terrifyingly exhilarating aural asylum of wails, howls, clanks, chanks, telltale heartbeats, wah wah quacks, white noise and loud silences. Burning and looting through planes and waves of sound previously claimed by the likes of Can and Pink Floyd, the tunes on Dark Magus are ambient and drum ‘n’ bass’ Dead Sea Scrolls (Miles would only record Agartha and Pangaea in July of ’75 before “retiring”). We would never hear music like this again. (Postscript: Meta-musician Bill Laswell has rummaged through Davis’ ’70s multitracks and come up with Panthalassa. The Ultimate Miles Mix Tape, Panthalassa is a blended state-of-the-art aural collage of themes from In A Silent Way, On The Corner and Get Up With It. Look for it before the end of the year.)