Saturday, January 25, 2014

ALBUM REVIEW: ‘Miles at the Fillmore’ - Uncut 1970 Brew

Miles Davis in 1970sby , Psychedelic Sight:

“Miles Runs the Voodoo Down,” the song title went.

And so he did, playing dark and spellbinding music in Bill Graham’s Fillmore Auditoriums over a two-year period in the early 1970s.

“You can hear that anger and darkness and the craziness of everything that was still in the air from the ’60s when this music was made,” says the guitarist Carlos Santana, a Fillmore regular and witness to the eruption of the electric Miles Davis.

Even today, Santana remains awestruck by Davis’ psychedelic proto-funk, as is made clear in his liner notes to a significant restoration of the old live album “Miles Davis at Fillmore” that’s due from Columbia/ Legacy in March.

Davis’ psychedelic period began, more or less, when “Bitches Brew” was recorded in 1969.

He’d been absorbing psychedelic soundscapes, acid rock and the aggressive, artful new funk of James Brown’s band: “The music I was really listening to in 1968 was James Brown, the great guitar player Jimi Hendrix, and a new group Sly and the Family Stone,” Davis wrote in his autobiography.

Even the most dedicated Davis fans who’d been along for the ride with the albums “Filles de Kilimanjaro” and “In a Silent Way” were in for a shock.

When Dylan went electric, he plugged in. When Davis went electric, he stuck his finger in the socket. The jazz trumpeter was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for good reason.

Two months after the April 1970 release of “Bitches Brew” - June 17-20 - Davis and band played the Fillmore East in New York City.

The musicians were Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, Airto Moreira and Steve Grossman. A murderer’s row, to be sure, but MIA was Wayne Shorter, who’d played on “Bitches” and been replaced (sort of) on sax by Grossman - a major loss.

Columbia released a highly edited version of those concerts in a two-LP set of that fall, the abruptly named “Miles Davis at Fillmore.”

There were problems, beginning with the track names. The LP labels had only four titles: “Wednesday Miles,” “Thursday Miles,” “Friday Miles” and “Saturday Miles” - even though the group was playing discrete songs, and repeating almost all of them over the four nights.

In 1997, Columbia’s CD re-release added song titles, but the editing by producer Teo Macero remained. Macero had the thankless task of boiling down an hour or so of performance to fit on one side of an LP - one side per night.

The new set, fully titled “Miles at the Fillmore - Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3,” rights that necessary evil: “The full unedited shows are now presented for the first time yielding 100-plus minutes of previously unreleased music,” goes the Columbia press release.

In addition there are three bonus tracks from Fillmore West gig with the Grateful Dead, two months earlier. The highlight bonus number would seem to be a 13-minute blast of “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down,” a number with a clear Hendrix influence.

The four-CD set will go for about $53, available March 25.

In 1997, Columbia/Legacy released a slate of live Davis records from 1970-1974 under the brand of “Miles Davis: Live & Electric.” They were “Live-Evil,” “Dark Magus,” “Black Beauty,” “Live at the Philharmonic Hall” and “At Fillmore.”

All remastered with 20-bit technology and liner notes from musicians, notably pianist Corea on “Black Beauty” (these are great-sounding CDs).

Even after two decades, the collective 10 CDs would prove a challenge to the most adventurous listeners of 1997.

Rock critic Robert Christgau remained dubious: “This music was electric, beat-heavy, and marketed to kids - and thus obviously worthy of suspicion if not contempt (from jazz critics).” The album “At Fillmore,” he found, “meandered overmuch”:
Like all ’70s Miles, “At Fillmore” is more inviting in the wake of ambient techno than it was in 1970, or 1980, but like most ambient techno it fails to cull the mesmerizing from the soothing from the boring. Moreover, several of its high points are provided by some of the most Milesian solos of this era, and that is not what the era was for.
Carlos Santana, of course, heard much more in Davis’ music from “the era”: “The sound of Miles at the Fillmore was the sound of the Black Panthers. It was the sound of Vietnam. It was the sound of the protesting and the beatings and the shootings. It was the sound of the hippies and fighting in the streets and consciousness revolution".

“If ever there was a time when a rock audience was willing to open their ears and hear some great modern jazz like the kind Miles was creating, it was at the Fillmore.”

Here are the tracks and performance dates:
"Miles at the Fillmore - Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3"
Disc 1 (Fillmore East, June 17, 1970)
1. Introduction by Bill Graham • 2. Directions • 3. The Mask • 4. It’s About That Time • 5. Bitches Brew • 6. The Theme • Bonus tracks (Fillmore West, April 11, 1970): 7. Paraphernalia • 8. Footprints.
Disc 2 (Fillmore East, June 18, 1970)
1. Directions • 2. The Mask • 3. It’s About That Time • 4. Bitches Brew • 5. The Theme • 6. Spanish Key (Encore) • 7. The Theme.
Disc 3 (Fillmore East, June 19, 1970)
1. Directions • 2. The Mask • 3. It’s About That Time • 4. I Fall In Love Too Easily • 5. Sanctuary • 6. Bitches Brew • 7. The Theme • Bonus track (Fillmore West, April 11, 1970): 8. Miles Runs the Voodoo Down.
Disc 4 (Fillmore East, June 20, 1970)
1. Directions • 2. The Mask • 3. It’s About That Time • 4. I Fall In Love Too Easily • 5. Sanctuary • 6. Bitches Brew • 7. Willie Nelson • 8. The Theme.