Miles Davis - Bitches Brew: Legacy Edition

Miles Davis
Bitches Brew

[Legacy Edition]

(Columbia/Legacy)

First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2010, Volume 17, #11

Written by John Metzger

Thu November 11, 2010, 06:30 AM CST

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Some artists find a formula that works and then spend the rest of their years refining it. Others, though, choose a different path, one in which they tear apart the fabric of their creations and start again. Miles Davis obviously fell into the latter category. Although his career can be divided into several distinctive eras, each album he crafted sounded different from the rest. For him, music was in a constant state of evolution, and he needed to be leading the pack. With this in mind, an argument could be made that his seminal effort Bitches Brew was both a crowning achievement as well as a transitional affair that propelled him into the 1970s with a wealth of new ideas at his disposal.

Indeed, as his second great quintet — which featured saxophonist Wayne Shorter, keyboard player Herbie Hancock, bass player Ron Carter, and drummer Tony Williams — fractured, Davis began searching for a way of making his output appeal to rock ’n‘ roll audiences. Not only was he fascinated with the R&B explorations of James Brown, Sly Stone, and Jimi Hendrix, but he also began to push his supporting cast — which soon swapped Hancock for Chick Corea, Williams for Jack DeJohnette, and Carter for Dave Holland — toward a framework that was decidedly less structured. Everything that Davis did revolved around the notion of pure improvisation. Acting as the ensemble’s final member, producer Teo Macero sliced, diced, and spliced Davis’ studio recordings in order to concoct a series of boundary-shattering albums.

The moody tones of In a Silent Way were the realization of Davis’ experiments on Filles de Kilimanjaro — as well as Water Babies, a compilation of leftover material that he recorded in the late 1960s. Bitches Brew, though, created a whole new ball game. Its opening and closing tracks (Pharoah’s Dance and Sanctuary) draw connections to In a Silent Way. Throughout the rest of the set, though, Davis and company pushed forward with freewheeling improvisations that were anchored by driving, rock-inflected grooves.

The resulting music featured on Bitches Brew easily could have devolved into chaos, but the masterful editing done by Macero elevates and maintains the sense of purpose that the musicians brought to the project. The songs retain their melodies, even as Davis and his ensemble bend, stretch, twist, and turn them in a variety of directions. Davis’ trumpet, Shorter’s saxophone, Corea’s keyboards, and John McLaughlin’s guitar splash colors across the surface of the propulsive rhythms, as the rest of the band provides texture and flavor to the material. Previously unreleased, alternate versions of Spanish Key and John McLaughlin combine with a quartet of severely edited singles (Miles Runs the Voodoo Down, Spanish Key, Great Expectations, and Little Blue Frog) to lend insight into the making and marketing of the affair.

For all of the groundbreaking work that Davis accomplished in the studio, it is clear that the stage show he was building around his approach to Bitches Brew was still taking shape. The DVD that completes Bitches Brew: Legacy Edition was recorded in November 1969, just a few months after Davis put the finishing touches upon the album. The film showcases his touring band — Corea, Holland, Shorter, and DeJohnette — as it was in the early stages of grappling with the spacious constructs with which Davis was tinkering. Overall, the performances that Davis elicits from his troupe are inspired. At the same time, though, the concert oscillates between flashes of creative brilliance and moments of scattershot fuzziness.

By this point, Davis no longer was interested in performing songs, at least not in a traditional sense. Although his concert in November 1969 technically featured seven tunes, the material was strung together to form a cohesive, multi-part suite that favored experimentalism over melody. Essentially, Davis introduced each idea and then stepped aside to watch as his ensemble dismantled and rearranged the pieces. Consequently, the different musical themes explored by the band became blurred, giving the set an aura that now sounds similar to one of the Grateful Dead’s latter-day Space segments.

At their best, the musicians in Davis’ ensemble were locked in an engaging dance that pitted turbulent rhythms against an exploration of tones and harmonies. Songs like Miles Runs the Voodoo Down, Bitches Brew, and It’s about that Time were rendered with impressionistic flourishes that conveyed the outfit’s restlessness. Chords splattered against crashing waves of rhythm; skronks and howls disrupted the meditative spaces. Nevertheless, there was one persistent problem that Davis needed to resolve: Holland’s acoustic bass often was overpowered by the amplified keyboards, in spite of the occasional patter that ran beneath the fray — or, in the case of It’s about that Time, the cries of a whale that were emitted as Holland dragged a bow across his instrument’s strings. The end result was that the driving grooves that Davis had placed front-and-center on Bitches Brew were dulled considerably in a concert setting.

Still, there’s no denying the fact that Davis had once again pushed jazz into a new realm. Bitches Brew was, in many ways, the culmination of a journey as well as a bold new beginning. Designed to revitalize the genre by bringing it back in vogue, Davis’ concepts opened plenty of new doors, ones which reflected and inspired the heightened minds of a younger generation of fans. starstarstarstarstar

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Of Further Interest...

Miles Davis - Sketches of Spain: 50th Anniversary Legacy Edition

Page McConnell - Page McConnell / self-titled

John Scofield - This Meets That

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Bitches Brew: Legacy Edition is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!

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Ratings

1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!

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Copyright © 2010 The Music Box