Saturday, July 25, 2015

Miles Davis - At Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4 (Legacy, 2015)

The latest in the bootleg series of (mostly) unreleased recordings is a wonderful collection of live recordings, which provide a thumbnail version of bands Miles Davis led during this period. Moving from bebop/hardbop to the most cutting edge of acoustic jazz and then to no-looking-back fusion, this set shows a thoroughly defiant Davis moving forever forward for twenty years. Miles Davis demanded that George Wein put him in the 1955 festival as he was trying to claw his way back from addiction and wound up in an ad hoc band that wasn’t even on the program, with Thelonious Monk, Gerry Mulligan and others. His beautiful playing on Monk’s “Round Midnight” wowed the audience and led to him being signed to Columbia Records. The music moves forward to 1958 and the band that would eventually record the famous Kind of Blue album. They are working toward that masterpiece, playing torrid bebop on Charlie Parker’s “Ah-Leu-Cha,” moving seamlessly back to Monk with “Straight, No Chaser,” finishing up with “Two Bass Hit” and “Bye Bye Blackbird.” Disc two tracks extraordinary music from the “second great quintet” of Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone, Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass and Tony Williams on drums from 1966 and 1967. The music is wide open and fierce with Williams’ slashing drums taking even subtle themes like “Seven Steps to Heaven” and “Stella By Starlight” and electrifying them and pushing the music relentlessly forward. It is very interesting to hear this band a couple of years on from the famous Plugged Nickel concerts, and if anything they were even faster and more wide open, running theme after theme without a break, at an extraordinary level of musicianship. Disc three moves to 1969, the year that Wein opened the festival to rock bands and Davis responded by bringing Shorter on tenor and soprano saxophones, Dave Holland on electric bass, Chick Corea on electric piano, and Jack DeJohnette on drums. It’s a great band and it is a shame that the set is only twenty five minutes long, but it’s enough to give a preview of what was to come on “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down.” The package breaks chronology to jump to Newport in Europe for a concert from Berlin in November 1973. Here the group is expanded to seven musicians and is playing a deep dark jazz funk. The band plays a continuous set of music that will occasionally touch on recognizable themes like “Ife” but was for the most part a collective improvisation of a scalding two guitar, two percussion lineup with heavy electric bass and Davis’s blasts of electrified trumpet and smears of organ. It is ominous and thrilling music. Disc three ends with an exhausted Davis playing “Mtume” in 1975 just before his six year retirement. Percussion and bass are front and center and the music goes out on a strong note. The reason that disc four is out of order that the 1971 Newport in Europe concert from Switzerland is over sixty minutes long. (According to the liner notes it is the first of two concerts Davis gave that that evening. Where the heck is the other one? Are they holding it back for Volume Five?) It’s a killer performance too, with Davis stalking like a panther delivering swathes of electrified wah drenched trumpet making music that must rock guitarists could only dream of. Keith Jarrett would never play electronic instruments again after this but provides waves of fender rhodes and organ, while a drummer and two percussionists ley down an ever shifting carpet of rhythm for music that is mostly drawn from the Bitches Brew LP, but remade into a heavy funk powerhouse. This is another excellent archival boxed set from Columbia’s seemingly bottomless archive of Miles Davis recordings. The music is simply extraordinary and the packaging is fine as well with solid liner notes and discography and wonderful photographs. Miles Davis At Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4

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