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Miles And The Band That Never Was

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Well I began my February on a trek to Bullmoose Records where a friend of the families named Todd ran into me. He’s always been an avid enthusiast of jazz,fusion and jazz/funk in particular and often leaves the store with an enormous amount of music. He also has an infectious spirit when it comes to turning people onto new things they never heard before. He mentioned that he was picking up this new live collection by jazz icon Miles Davis. He said it featured a group of musicians he’d worked and played with at different times,but whom had never recorded together. The character of Miles Davis has always fascinated me,especially from a musical point of view. Always had the feeling he was also personally misunderstood a lot of the times.  So with all this in mind I decided to purchase the CD sight unseen. Of course it takes a lot of time to digest three full length CD’s,especially when they consist of compositions in the seven-twelve minute range. It came with a DVD however that actually featured a performance of the quintet touring with Miles during this time that they did for German television in Berlin on November 6th,1969. Several hours before I wrote this,I sat down with my father and we watched the concert DVD together. Granted I’ve seen a number of recorded concerts, but even still something about this performance was musically and visually remarkable.

Miles was out onstage with the quintet. Still with him from his classic 60’s quintet was Wayne Shorter on tenor and soprano sax-dressed in a manner no dissimilar to Jimi Hendrix.  There was bassist Dave Holland with his upright,decked out in a Guernsey cow patterned vest. And of course Chick Corea behind the Fender Rhodes electric piano Miles had insisted he play. And of course there was Jack DeJohnette as the drummer. And Miles himself,decked out in black leather pants,a fat orange neck tie and a black and red airbrushed horn that looked like it had just been freshly blow torched for color. And than they began to play. Miles started playing “Directions”. After getting the theme started the quartet played “Bitches Brew”,”It’s About That Time”,”I Fall In Love Too Easily” and “Sanctuary” in such a tightly knit manner that they all sounded like a single song. Miles alternated by walking up to his fellow musicians and staring right at them as they soloed. When his turn came to solo,he was in his classic back bent pose-the stance of a rock star when they astride their guitar. During this Wayne Shorter played an amazingly fast and amazingly melodic soprano sax solo that seemed to last nearly two minutes without a pause. Chick Corea had me frozen in surprise when he tickled so many scales out of the electric piano with his fingers it sounded as if he was not playing a keyboard at all,but rather a vibraphone with mallets of some kind.

As the musicians played this amazingly and uniquely performed music,the cinematography did something equally amazing in capturing the personalities of the band. During one of his solos there was a double exposure of Miles-him facing forward and back to on the right hand side,as if he was playing to his own alter ego somehow. Another shot captured Jack DeJonette on the right facing left,in a double exposure of Miles playing to him for the opposite direction. This particular camera angle was the perfect photographic metaphor of the entire concert. Each of these players,though not completely experienced playing with each other and in a very free improvised style of electric jazz/rock fusion that no one had played yet at all,had their ears and hearts open to what they’d be asked to play next throughout the entire concert. In true jazz spirit of creating music on the spot each musician was consistently listening to the others,growing,expanding and adapting their sound to wherever the given soloist led them to go. Over the years I’ve heard the main criticism of jazz/rock fusion continue to be the lack of ability for electric instrumental soloists to listen to what other musicians were playing. That it went against the entire idea of jazz improvisation. When one listens to the amazing music in this concert,as well as watching the intent and careful attention each member of this quintet are visually paying to one another as they play,it’s easy enough to notice how even though he’s not with us anymore Miles Davis continues to prove critics of his electric jazz innovation wrong in a big way.


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