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Listen to This: Miles Davis and Bitches Brew by Victor Svorinch

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It is surprising that Victor Svorinich’s Listen to This: Miles Davis and Bitches Brew is the first full-length book devoted to examining the 1970 double-album that set the trumpeter on a electrified path from which he never wavered until his death in 1991. Fortunately, Kean University music instructor Svorinich, whose previous work has examined electric Miles albums In a Silent Way and On the Corner, is up to the task’s demands, and his book is an essential if imperfect addition to the library of Davis scholarship.

Listen to This smoothly grounds Davis’ new direction in the context of its times. The product of recording sessions begun the day after Woodstock, Brew reflected the evolving sensibilities of an artist dedicated to never putting his muse in park. He had become enamored of the seismic explorations of popular black musicians like James Brown, Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone, and the unprecedented mainstream success of these artists had Davis worrying that he would be abandoned in the musical past. “I wasn’t prepared to be a memory yet,” said Davis, and in order to create the freshest sounds imaginable, he assembled a band that included saxophonist Wayne Shorter, a longtime collaborator; more recent cohorts like guitarist John McLaughlin and electric pianist and composer Joe Zawinul; and a few young musicians with whom he had never played or recorded, notably bass clarinetist Bennie Maupin, whom Svorinich calls the album’s “hidden gem” and for whom the inaugural Brew session marked the first time he and Davis had met.

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