Review Summary: Miles Davis gets strange.
The mysticism of old-world indigenous tribes has always been such a fascinating subject, from the Voodoo religions of the Caribbean and Western Africa, to the Native American tribe mythology. I suppose the more interesting matter is how similar these religions are, despite the vast distances that separates them. One particular aspect that I find most fascinating is their interests in cathartic trances and vision quests. The Huichol Tribe from Mexico, for example, used Peyote. Peyote contains the psychoactive effect, Mescaline, which causes psychedelic hallucinations. The Huichol tribe believed that Peyote triggers a state of deep introspection and insight that they describe as being of a metaphysical or spiritual nature. The user would fall into a deep trance, and in this state, they embark on a spiritual journey of enlightenment by using the drug. Aldous Huxley talked all about these practices in his book, The Doors Of Perception
, where he himself used the drug and wrote of his own experiences.
Aldous Huxley began to experiment with other psychoactive drugs, and influenced an entire generation during the 1960's to embark on their own experiences, all directly influenced by old-world mysticism. LSD and marijuana became instantly available everywhere, and many musicians fell into this growing new idea of hedonistic lifestyles in the late 1960's. Influenced by the effects of these drugs, a multitude of musicians all over the world embarked on metaphysical trances of their own and then translated these experiences into music. Musicians from all over began trying to recreate the experiences of LSD and other psychoactive drugs in their songs- This would change the way we look at music forever. Music was never the same after that. Musicians began seeing music as much more than just something to listen to, but something to get lost in. Music became much more abstract, much more experimental, and even stranger. There was a stronger emphasis on atmosphere, it was no longer about a catchy arrangement of chords, lyrics, and drum beats. Psychedelic Rock and Progressive music began to become popular, songs then became musical journeys lasting up to 20 minutes, even hours. Musicians began letting the instruments speak for themselves. These musicians weren't playing the instruments, the instruments were using the musicians to help them come alive.
This new urge for experimentation floated through the air, and everyone who could play an instrument was trying to be a part of this. Miles Davis began to show an interest with electric instruments in 1968's Miles In The Sky
, heralding a new chapter in this musician's life, the electric era. Just by looking at the album cover, with it's psychedelic art, we can already tell this isn't the same "Cool" Miles Davis that we've seen before. No, this is a musician embracing the times and the world around him. But this new experimental and ambient sound still needed to be nurtured a little bit. Miles began combining rock music with his Jazz by using electric guitars, pianos, and bass guitars. This new, "Electric" Miles, with his newly developed style wrote some of Jazz music's most important albums; Filles de Kilimanjaro
, In A Silent Way
, and of course his magnum opus of the electric period, Bitches Brew
The music of Bitches Brew, to the average listener, may seem like an abundance of random sounds all happening at once with no particular order or purpose. The tracks on this album are not jazz songs, oh no, they are the recipes for a spell. Miles and his band are sorcerers that have prepared a magical brew, and like the mystics of the old-world, we are to embark on it's trance. Every musician in this album is in top condition, especially John McLaughlin, who would later go to form his own respected Jazz Fusion band, The Mahavishnu Orchestra. Right at the very beginning with "Pharaoh's Dance"
, the atmosphere for this trance is set up. A silent, yet menacing, arrangement of ambient psychedelic sounds fill our ears as they take us away, deep into our mind. Slowly it picks up the pace, as the band begins to jam out. Tracks like "Bitches Brew"
and "Spanish Key"
, spark up the excitement but retain the ambient atmosphere. John McLaughlin's eponymous track is a quite special one because we see this musician's history and eventual progression. This is a much more restrained John McLaughlin than the one who leads The Mahavishnu Orchestra. Instead of his usual shredding that centers the music of The Mahavishnu Orchestra, there is an emphasis on rhythm and groove throughout this song. "Miles Runs The Voodoo Down"
is a return to the silent and ambient feel, but also displays some serious notes from Miles Davis and John McLaughlin. These two have developed quite the explosive synergy in this track.
And finally as we begin to unwind, and the spell begins to loose it's effect, we enter into the final phase of the trance. Slowly coming down from our high, but the spell continues to let out it's final touch in "Sanctuary"
, coming and going as it pleases in it's restrained chaos. Finally the effects of the trance fades and we enter back into our normal conscious world, as we've now had our own taste of Bitches Brew. But this kind of brew isn't for just anyone. Many may find, in all of it's bizarre nature, to be a bitter taste. But to the enlightened few, who have seen Miles through his journeys from the sky to Kilimanjaro, and have opened their ears to his silent ways, will find it's taste to be the sweetest around.