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Miles Davis - Bitches Brew Live CD (album) cover

BITCHES BREW LIVE

Miles Davis

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.60 | 12 ratings

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Neu!mann
Prog Reviewer
3 stars This oddly bifurcated live album presents an intriguing before-and-after portrait of an artist on the brink of ascent, and in full flight shortly afterward. The initial three tracks are from the July 1969 Newport Jazz Festival, when Miles Davis was still playing (mostly) unplugged Fusion alongside the so-called Lost Quintet. The balance of the disc is reserved for his performance at the legendary 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, where the erstwhile Jazz icon shared the marquee with Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, Jim Morrison, Jethro Tull, ELP, and Tiny Tim (Hawkwind, not invited, played free of charge outside the fence).

The earlier era has been documented more completely in the 2013 "Live in Europe 1969" boxed set. But the abbreviated Newport concert (24-minutes in all) is more exciting, and sounds better, than anything in the later compilation. The incomplete tape is a source of frustration; it opens in the middle of "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down", a much livelier, more dynamic reading than the version later recorded for the "Bitches Brew" album. But the novelty of hearing the quintet playing as an accidental foursome (Saxophonist Wayne Shorter missed the gig, stuck in Rhode Island traffic) makes it a worthwhile footnote to the unfolding narrative of electric Miles Davis.

Fast forward to late August, 1970: thirteen short months later but a world away in musical terms. The quintet has been expanded to a much louder septet, adding Airto Moreira on percussive allsorts and Keith Jarrett on the second keyboard (with Shorter replaced by Gary Bartz). The cross-fade on disc from the enthusiastic applause at Newport to the sound of over 600,000 festival-goers is a dramatic indication of changing times; the half-hour medley that follows is even more so.

The audio alone can't compare to the full visual experience of the same gig captured on the '05 "Miles Electric" DVD. But it's fascinating to hear the trumpet player leading his band with subtle music cues, setting up a tempo here, suggesting a new theme there, and daring the other players to keep up. The ferocious jam in "Spanish Key" is the obvious highlight, ebbing and flowing with relentless energy, more so than the equally thrilling studio version heard on the "Brew" album.

Like so many other posthumous Miles Davis live albums the CD imposes artificial order on the set list, with indexed track titles that didn't exist at the time. On stage in the 1970s Davis never paused for individual songs, and when asked after the gig about the name of the piece, he famously responded, "Call it anything".

Maybe that should have been the title of the album itself. "Bitches Brew Live" is a disingenuous name for this somewhat forced juxtaposition of two orphaned recordings not long enough by themselves to fill a compact disc (and besides, there's a lot of music here unrelated to the 1970 LP). Consider it an extended sampler of sorts, hastily organized and incorrectly annotated (Led Zeppelin did not play at the Isle of Wight), but rewarding as a candid snapshot of an innovative artist approaching his musical zenith.

Neu!mann | 3/5 |

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