Miles Davis’ haunting rasp “Teo … play that … Teo … Teo … Teo … Teo … play that,” closing “Gingerbread Boy” on your worn-out vinyl copies of Miles Smiles, was only the tip of the iceberg. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of that second studio album from the Second Great Miles Quintet, Sony/Columbia/Legacy has released Freedom Jazz Dance as Volume 5 of their acclaimed Bootleg Series. It is a fascinating glimpse into the creative process of this legendary unit and especially its leader, as the three-CD set includes session reels (rehearsals, partial and alternate takes), remastered final takes and-most tantalizing-much in-studio banter. We experience the band shape and develop the six tunes from the original project, recorded in October 1966, as well as three compositions from later releases. Also included are an alternative “Masqualero,” from 1967’s Sorcerer (not the same as the one on 1998’s The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings); a rhythm-section-only reading of “Country Son,” from 1968’s Miles in the Sky; a precious homemade tape of Miles demonstrating an idea on piano for a visiting Wayne Shorter; and six seconds of Miles advising Tony Williams during the recording of a drum solo that would later be appended to “Agitation,” from 1965’s E.S.P.
Much time is spent on Ron Carter’s bassline for “Freedom Jazz Dance,” preceding an immediately aborted experiment with woodblocks (!?) from force-of-nature Williams. By take six, Miles has the lightbulb moment of stretching the form of the melody, suggesting, “Make it longer.” Davis then hits on the idea of Williams playing those definitive left-hand triplets, à la Elvin Jones, just before take 10, and soon after, the reimagining of this Eddie Harris favorite is finalized.
On “Orbits,” Williams’ cross-stick, half-Latin-but-still swinging approach-with Carter walking straight-ahead-is evident from the first run-throughs. The drummer’s slippery, between-the-cracks feel on this track is referred to as “that other rhythm” by Davis and as a “bossa thing” by Herbie Hancock, who later opines that Shorter’s “Dolores” “has to sound more … happy.” Meanwhile, the rhythm section’s trademark elasticity, that mysterious effect of suspended time conjured through the combination of Carter sliding upward while Williams rolls without an expected punctuation mark to close, appears to be a Davis concept too: He hums a line containing such slurs for “Dolores” (which “isn’t called anything yet”) to the bassist. The final take has the band playing Q&A games with the head out, and Miles croaks, “Teo, we made the endin’ about six times!”
The horns’ four descending unison smears, which replace Jimmy Heath’s written lines in bars nine through 12 of “Gingerbread Boy,” was also apparently Davis’ brainstorm, and he explains that “I heard that today in my sleep.” Shorter’s “Footprints,” although previously recorded and released for the composer’s Blue Note album Adam’s Apple, gets a thorough makeover from the quintet. Here the time is more flexible, and by take four, the strict 6/8 is eschewed as Williams almost imperceptibly nudges into 4/4 during Miles’ solo and keeps it there for the remainder of the cut. Miles tells Macero, “Teo, you can take any parts of that you want,” to which Hancock responds, laughingly, “and put it in the trash.” Incidentally, this is the only opportunity to clearly hear Shorter’s voice amid the studio chatter, as Macero mistakenly announces the tune as “Woodprints”-to which the composer authoritatively replies, “Foot!” His speaking voice may be nearly absent relative to the other four, but his unmistakable instrumental voice is consistently breathtaking.
This fly-on-the-wall element continues with Shorter’s “Nefertiti” (recorded in June 1967), “Fall” (July 1967; both appeared on 1968’s Nefertiti) and “Water Babies,” recorded at the same session as “Nefertiti” but not showing up until an eponymous release in 1976. Their unusual role-reversal treatment of the former, with Williams freely soloing over the rest of the group as they repeat the theme with slight variations, was once again a spontaneous Miles notion: “Hey man, why don’t we make a tune with just playin’ the melody; don’t play no solos,” which is greeted by giggling and agreeable encouragement all around. “Fall” reveals an inherent grasp of the form, and by a full take three, parts of the melody are being used as “anchors” behind the soloists. After the fifth, and ultimately released, attempt, Miles complains, “I ain’t playin’ nothin’.”
Beyond the expected blue words in the trumpeter’s candid comments, he is surprisingly shown to be toughest on himself. What’s here is the mutual trust Miles shared with his “sidemen” (actually co-conspirators), and their deference to him, their conductor, the maestro.