Review Summary: You ever hear of this? The heavy side of Miles.
What to say about the man that’s done it all. Here we have a guy that totally challenged the already established boundaries of Jazz Music, primarily because he was bored of the sound (it seems to me, at least). If In A Silent Way
totally opened up the eyes, Bitch's Brew
opened up the soul. With this newly invented sound for Jazz, Miles Davis' early to mid 70s output was extremely unheard of for the dusty Charlie Parker-type of Jazz Fans. While he still had amazing Quartets, Miles soon incorporated guitars and sometimes 3 drummers all on one track. Difficult, stubborn, lovely and everything else in between, Miles' "Electric Period" is the time where he made new fans from the Rock Music world, who otherwise wouldn’t give two craps for Miles Dewey. And God bless the man for experimenting, as this period is now one of the most praised, and it certainly does not take a Jazz aficionado to see that.
Without trying to write a biography, in 1974, Miles was on the verge of self-destruction. Plagued by drug problems (primarily Coke), and health problems, he made the Trumpet scream in a way that he had never done before. With the extremely negative reviews of both On The Corner
(a classic record!) and Get Up With It
, Miles' live performances were all but friendly. It was during this time where he infamously played with his back to the audience. Some said he did it out of his hatred towards Whitey, others say it was just him leading his band. Whatever the case may be, I'm very thankful somebody put these performances to tape. Come March 30, 1974 and Dark Magus
was born. Recorded at Carnegie Hall on a bitter cold March night, this is where Miles just became straight-up sinister. To put it bluntly: There’s a reason why the title of the album has the word "dark" in it, and his dark times certainly came alive in his music.
Q Magazine named this album one of the 50 heaviest albums of all time, next to Slayer, Venom, Maiden, and of course Black Sabbath. This must seem totally unlikely to somebody who might not be familiar with this album, but I must insist to you that the album is well-deserved to be on there. The tone of the record is very difficult to explain, but it’s a landscape with a super black cloud hovering over it. It’s melody-free, and is not something you would put on for a dinner party, much like how Kind Of Blue
is. The album is presented with 2 discs, with a total of 4 pieces. Each piece is split into two parts, with a total of 4 tracks on each disc. It’s unclear if Miles and Teo Macero did any editing to this as extreme editing was their usual practice (Bitch’s Brew for example is all pieced together from different sessions), but it sounds very raw, the most honest form of human emotion. Dark Magus
is also the beginning of a trilogy of live albums Miles released before his semi-retirement in 1975, the other two being Agharta
(whether or not that’s official from Miles is unclear to me, but most fans bunch them together)
According to the liner notes by Miles’ Saxophone player Dave Liebman, Miles gave no idea on what to play on this night, and everything on this album is 100% improvisation. Given the motive, the band performs without a hitch. “Moja (Part 1)” starts off the album with a frantic Rockish-drum beat before it dips into pure chaos. The guitarists use an extreme amount of the Wah pedal to create an absolute morbid guitar riff with the drummer and the other two percussionists all coinciding with each other. At first, there is no safe way in to get what is actually going on. Miles doesn’t even make an appearance on this track until about seven minutes in. When he does appear, it magically all clicks. Also of notable mention is that Miles played his horn through a Wah pedal as well, and he got some absolutely wicked sounds. Gone were the very lyrical solos of his old days in favor of sharp shrieks and holding notes for as long as possible. “Moja (Part 2)” continues on, except this section of the piece is much more relaxed and at ease, but that’s not to say it’s not chaotic. In other words, all of the fury was unleashed within the first 12 minutes, and the rest spreads out over the next half.
Moving right along, “Wili (Part 1)” begins a lot more peacefully with a delicious bass line laying the foundation. Miles plays a lot more on this piece than the track before, and the keyboards really shine on this as well. The guitar players display licks that resemble the guitar from the Shaft
theme song, except not as cheesy, and draped in black. This is also where the Saxophone makes its first appearance on the album, and Dave Liebman delivers a very inspired solo amidst the chaos. But it’s the second part of Wili where the melody on this damn album finally starts to show.
Disc two starts off with “Tatu (part 1)”, possibly the only section where there is a solid groove throughout, and what a groove it is. This is probably the track that got Miles on that 50 heaviest albums list since the rhythm section is clicking more so than before. Miles’ Trumpet is so indistinguishable that you would think it’s a guitar but really he’s just not letting his foot off that pedal. Pretty much every member of the group except for the Sax player gets a taste of this groove, with the winner being the Keyboardist (who very well could be Miles if he’s not doing the Trumpet) as he brings the most interesting element. Mid-piece gets a break with only Miles with the full band coming in for a couple split sections before the groove is finally handed over to Dave Liebman. “Tatu (part 2)” is really only a continuation. Its funny, all of the other sections start off differently and at first you wouldn’t think it’s the same piece. But since Tatu in general is probably the best thing on this album, the flow of it speaks volumes.
“Nne” starts off slow with the guitarist busting out a Hendrix-inspired scream of the notes with the drummer in the background looking for a groove. The horns dominate this piece, even if it might be a bit more quiet than the majority of this record. Nne (and part two) is the standard “smoking herb in a dark room with no light, concentrating on the music” as it is very dreary until the pace picks up at around the 0:48 mark and the daydreaming stops dead in its tracks. I’m not exactly sure when, but Miles leaves the stage at or around the beginning of part two, and the band close the set with a chaotic Jazz throwdown to end an incredibly dense, murky concert of conflicting moods.
Certainly not Miles’ finest live album, it is of such significance that an album like this can jump at you the way it does. Dark Magus
is uninviting, mean, and the results can make one extremely curious to hear the rest to see where the band goes. Would I recommend this to somebody trying to dig Miles? Well, that all depends on the kind of music you enjoy. Id bust this out to an average person that enjoys heavy rock and metal in a flash because I know it would go over well. I’d avoid this like the plague if somebody really was into the smoother side of music (R’n B and Neo Soul). Nevertheless, like most of Miles’ Electric output, the period has its own audience, and even to this day, opinions are divided right down the middle. But the awesome thing about Miles is that he has something for all moods, and for all tastes. When the mood strikes for me to pop this in (and it does quite often), I enjoy it infinitely. But to sum it up nicely, if you enjoy the heavier side of things, embrace Dark Magus
, and be patient with the rewards as you’ll be compelled to spin this time and time again.