Wednesday, August 13, 2008

August 13, 2008: Album of the Day Vol. 033: Miles Davis - 1969 - Bitches Brew



Side one
"Pharaoh's Dance" (Joe Zawinul) – 20:06

Side two
"Bitches Brew" – 27:00

Side three
"Spanish Key" – 17:34
"John McLaughlin" – 4:26

Side four
"Miles Runs the Voodoo Down" – 14:04
"Sanctuary" (Shorter) – 11:01

Musicians:

Miles Davis - trumpet
Wayne Shorter - soprano saxophone
Bennie Maupin - bass clarinet
Chick Corea - electric piano (solo on "Miles Runs The Voodoo Down")
John McLaughlin - guitar
Dave Holland - bass
Harvey Brooks - electric bass
Lenny White - drum set
Jack DeJohnette - drum set
Don Alias - congas, drum set
Juma Santos (credited as "Jim Riley") - shaker, congas
Larry Young - electric piano on "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down" "John McLaughlin" "Spanish Key" and "Pharaoh's Dance"
Joe Zawinul - electric piano on "Bitches Brew" "Sanctuary" "Spanish Key" and "Pharaoh's Dance"
Billy Cobham - drum set
Airto Moreira - percussion

Additional personnel:

Teo Macero – producer
Frank Laico – engineer (November 19, 1969 session)
Stan Tonkel – engineer (All other sessions)
Mark Wilder – mastering
Mati Klarwein – cover painting
Bob Belden, Michael Cuscuna – reissue producer


All Music Guide Review by Thom Jurek:

Thought by many to be the most revolutionary album in jazz history, having virtually created the genre known as jazz-rock fusion (for better or worse) and being the jazz album to most influence rock and funk musicians, Bitches Brew is, by its very nature, mercurial. The original double LP included only six cuts and featured up to 12 musicians at any given time, most of whom would go on to be high-level players in their own right: Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, Airto, John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, Don Alias, Benny Maupin, Larry Young, Lenny White, and others. Originally thought to be a series of long jams locked into grooves around one or two keyboard, bass, or guitar figures, Bitches Brew is anything but. Producer Teo Macero had as much to do with the end product on Bitches Brew as Davis. Macero and Davis assembled, from splice to splice, section to section, much of the music recorded over three days in August 1969. First, there's the slow, modal, opening grooves of "Pharaoh's Dance," with its slippery trumpet lines to McLaughlin's snaky guitar figures skirting the edge of the rhythm section and Don Alias' conga slipping through the middle. The keyboards of Corea and Zawinul create a haunting, riffing groove echoed and accented by the two basses of Harvey Brooks and Dave Holland. The title cut was originally composed as a five-part suite, though only three were used. Here the keyboards punch through the mix, big chords and distorted harmonics ring up a racket for Davis to solo over rhythmically outside the mode. McLaughlin is comping on fat chords, creating the groove, and the bass and drums carry the rest for a small taste of deep-voodoo funk. Side three opens with McLaughlin and Davis trading funky fours and eights over the lock-step groove of hypnotic proportion that is "Spanish Key." Zawinul's trademark melodic sensibility provides a kind of chorus for Corea to flat around, and the congas and drummers working in complement against the basslines. This nearly segues into the four-and-a-half minute "John McLaughlin," with its signature organ mode and arpeggiated blues guitar runs. The end of Bitches Brew, signified by the stellar "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down," echoes the influence of Jimi Hendrix; with its chuck-and-slip chords and lead figures and Davis playing a ghostly melody through the shimmering funkiness of the rhythm section, it literally dances and becomes increasingly more chaotic until about nine minutes in, where it falls apart. Yet one doesn't know it until near the end, when it simmers down into smoke-and-ice fog once more. The disc closes with "Sanctuary," a previously recorded Davis tune that is completely redone here as an electric moody ballad reworked for this band, but keeping enough of its modal integrity to be outside the rest of Bitches Brew's retinue. The CD reissue adds "Feio," a track recorded early in 1970 with the same band. Unreleased — except on the box set of the complete sessions — "Feio" has more in common with the exploratory music of the previous August than with later, more structured Davis music in the jazz-rock vein. A three-note bass vamp centers the entire thing as three different modes entwine one another, seeking a groove to bolt onto. It never finds it, but becomes its own nocturnal beast, offering ethereal dark tones and textures to slide the album out the door on. Thus Bitches Brew retains its freshness and mystery long after its original issue.


The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions



Review By David Beckman:

No other musician in the 20th Century explored the possibilities of music as fiercely as trumpeter and bandleader Miles Davis. He frustrated critics and fans alike as he opened himself up to unexpected directions in musical thinking while continuously shaping and refining his remarkable skills on trumpet. Critics tried and tried to squeeze his musical journeys into a box called “jazz,” but Miles would have none of it. And then, in August of 1969, Miles decided he'd put all of us in an impenetrable box and dare us to break out.
While Miles did warn us with the electronic dabblings of his mid-sixties quintet and In A Silent Way, there is really no way to be prepared for the complete realignment of one's musical schematic that is Bitches Brew. To even begin to understand what was created in these sessions, we need to get a little perspective on what led up to them: a phenomenally talented composer and trumpet player; a true musical seeker who squeezed every last morsel of musical information out of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Gil Evans, Mingus, Coltrane; a jazz cat for hire who barely clawed his way out of heroin's grip; a man who influenced the evolution of an art form with his astonishing collaborations on recordings like Round About Midnight, Milestones, Miles Ahead, Sketches of Spain, Kind of Blue and In A Silent Way among many others arrives at the vortex of Jimi Hendrix and James Brown surrounded, as he'd always been, by the visionary musicians of the times: Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul, Chick Corea, Bennie Maupin, Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland, John McLaughlin—just a few of who would participate in Bitches Brew. Clearly, Miles Davis was at the precipice of something massive, something almost unsettling in its hugeness. Sure enough, this sprawling team of talent would create with Miles the most impenetrable, incendiary, and finally revelatory musical experiment of his lifetime.

When listening to the music of Bitches Brew and the Bitches Brew sessions, space and time tremble, quiver, and become elastic. One moment, you're traveling rapidly, furiously backward toward the Big Bang—the next, you've stopped and hang suspended, a million light years from nowhere, curling dangerously across some cosmic bump. Then, all at once, you're surging forth, speed increasing, any ability to gauge time lost in the burn, spinning and tumbling upward, downward, outward. Images—the elapsed time of an orchid in bloom, pixilated fast-motion fragments of urban decay—careen, stop, rewind at another speed, only to flicker forth cautiously. There is a feeling of expanding, contracting, implosion, stillness. The rules of physics have become open to interpretation. The grid upon which the universe is mapped ripples slightly—patterns shift. Towering creatures of color and light groan and sway. The thread between the first cell and the end of time coils and uncoils wildly like a snapped powerline in a hurricane, twisting and spewing energy. . . What was created in this music—in its probing, tentative tempo, its evolving rhythms, its blasts and blurts and belches of melody—was something strangely familiar yet entirely original, entirely its own thing. What coalesced as these ten to twenty musicians fed frenzy-like off the brash impulses of one another was a music that literally lifted itself away from their conscious control and began making its own decisions. At times fearsome, others breathtaking, Bitches Brew is music as liberated organism, surging and soaring, gorgeous and terrifying, taking you dark and fantastical places to which only it holds the map.

Much like the music contained within it, this box set feels mythical, a lot like some otherworldly text unearthed halfway across the cosmos. The construction of the 148-page book along with the art and the graphic design throughout is intensely aesthetic. The photographs of Miles and the essay by Carlos Santana are the jewels of the package. One complaint is that the track information is buried amidst the many pages and clumsily found—I recommend photocopying those pages, drawing or painting on the copies while listening to the music, and then posting them someplace accessible. And while Miles biographer Quincy Troupe's expansive 70-page essay is flush with compelling insights, ranging from the influence of Jimi Hendrix priestess Betty Mabry on Miles' flow to the significant use of overdubbing and other new postproduction techniques, his lengthy track-by-track analysis feels belabored and seems to miss the point. Suffice it to say that much of the previously unreleased material travels along similar time wrinkles, some of it leaving unanswered questions for the listener to forever puzzle over. That's both the punishment and the reward. The haunting riddles of Bitches Brew rip at us and taunt us—however, the willingness to engage those riddles and ghosts, fully and with heart, produces thevisceral joy that can shatter the box Miles put us in. That joy, while exhausting and unnerving, is his legacy and his gift to us.

Miles Davis performing Spanish Key live at Antibes Jazz Festival, Antibes, France, 1969



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