Review Summary: Witness the king of Fusion's 'lost' quintet live in concert.
During a discussion about Miles Davis, my father once told me, "You haven't heard Miles Davis, until you've experienced him live in concert. It's an invigorating scene to be a part of, because it's one thing to hear the music through an audio-player, but to actually see him and his bands in person, performing right in front of you, there's just nothing else like it. No other artist can even come close to replicating what he did. The innovative style of playing, the ever fluctuating moods his music conveys, and just the aura of the sounds you hear- it's not even a song that you're listening to, it's a work of mysticism that spellbinds the audience into a trance. That man wasn't a musician, he was a sorcerer." In my opinion, that pretty much says it all. Miles Davis turned Jazz inside-out with all of his ideas and concepts, he revolutionized the genre in a such an inspiring fashion that practically everyone who worked with him took something from his style, and incorporated his techniques into their own work. Unfortunately, I never got to see the legend himself live, but just by hearing his albums and watching his concerts via film, I understand exactly what my father meant. The atmosphere of his shows are embellished with imaginative musical virtuosity, from the mood-setting ambiences to the emphatic jam solos that erupt like wildfire.
This second addition to his Live In Europe
series, is yet another window into the intense performances of Miles Davis. Where the first installment focused on the Bebop and Modal phases in his career, this album focuses primarily on Miles' early Fusion days, featuring a significant number of pieces from his then upcoming opus, Bitches Brew
. Live In Europe: 1969
is a collective embodiment of several performances throughout his 1969 tour, each one offering its own variety of enticing moments to choose from, displaying some new compositions as well as the standard fan-favourites. As I said before, this concert gives us an early look at some of the pieces that would later be a part of the Bitches Brew
catalogue. Both of the Festival Mondial du Jazz d’Antibes renditions of "Miles Runs The Voodoo Down" are a major highlight of the album, but it's the performance on Disc 1 that really deserves initial attention. This particular rendition of the piece is much more energetic than the one encountered on Bitches Brew
. The studio version, though bombastic in its own way, still exhibited Miles' tendency to set up the scene with some soft ambiences before getting into the groove, but there's no time for foreplay here. Right from the beginning, Jack DeJohnette lets out some vigorous percussive rhythms that just can't wait to get this song started. And with pianist Chick Corea and bassist Dave Holland carrying the melody in the background, Miles and Wayne Shorter are free to do what they do best. The trumpet and tenor saxophone solos are working together with the very synergy that made the Second Great Quintet albums so mesmerizing. These two are feeding off each other and complimenting notes back and forth with such a fierce vitality that will leave the listener bewildered beyond belief.
The only drawback of the Bitches Brew
songs, and the Fusion pieces in general, is that they lack the rock-influenced style that gave Jazz a whole new perspective and opened up a wide range of possibilites. I can't even imagine how momentous this tour would have been if it had John McLaughlin jamming out his guitar on stage, but still, the musicians that Miles has at his disposal here could not have been recruited any better. There's certainly some familiar names who have worked with Miles before like Chick Corea and Wayne Shorter, both of whom went on to form their own renowned Fusion groups, Return To Forever and The Weather Report respectively. In fact, a lot of the concert's sound is very reminiscent of albums like Miles In The Sky
and Filles de Kilimanjaro
, which showed Miles still well intact within Post-bop, but also subtly incorporating the influence of rock music into the mix. One of the songs I was very excited to hear on this album was "Paraphernalia", the epic center-piece from Miles In The Sky
. I was very curious to see how Chick Corea would perform Herbie Hancock's piano chord sequences and notes. And though this piece has been completely revamped to the point of being hardly recognizable, Chick Corea brings out some of his most impressive flaunts. The first half of "Paraphernalia" follows a sequence of dynamic shifts, from erratic impromptu soloing in the vein of Free-Jazz, to settling down into the melodic theme. It isn't until the latter portion that Chick Corea is able to take the spotlight and performs a set of solos that would make Herbie Hancock's head spin in wonder. Chick Corea's notes really augment the dynamism that is being deployed throughout the piece, following along a rather modal path that focuses more on being as galvanizing as can be rather than alluring the audience into a spectacle of harmonic opulence.
There is also a few songs from Miles' Bop days present in the setlist, but even they have been renovated with new and more modern twists. The cover of Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight", which originally had a rather 'cool' demeanor in 'Round About Midnight
, has now traded away all of its soothing textures for excessive releases of spontaneous energy and boisterous instrumentation. This is actually not all that surprising though, there is a recurring theme of change and innovation that keeps popping up throughout the album, reflecting Miles' state of mind at the time and his yearning to be more abstract. "Bitches Brew" is perhaps the closest this concert gets to touching the trademarks found at the height of Miles' Fusion days. The songs opens with the familiar haunting nuances of the original version, a slow descension into a mystical labyrinth of melodies and rhythms of which we'll soon become all too familiar with. As the initial tease of sporadic, yet menacing, arrangement of atmospheric sounds come to a close, Miles and Jack DeJohnette set up the framework with some eccentric displays of musicianship. Jack DeJohnette steadily begins to erupt in the background with power and efficacy, while Miles lets out a few exercises on the trumpet. As "Bitches Brew" progresses, the whole song becomes an exhibition of virtuosity and dynamism rather than conveying a single mood.
Overall, I must say that this performance indeed lives up to all of the praise that surrounded its utterance. To anyone who is familiar with Miles Davis and have perhaps already heard the 1967 prequel to this album, you already know that this sequel is a beast of an entirely different nature. It's coated with a heavier and more raw sound, yet it distinctly foreshadows the experimental direction that Miles was desperately trying to venture in. It's not exactly a portrait of the revolution that Jazz was undergoing at the time, but it does illustrate various references that foreshadowed what Miles was trying to exploit. This whole album is us gazing towards the dawn of what was to come, while still occasionally reflecting on what Jazz used to be. Live in Europe 1969
is certainly an album worth attaining, not only does it offer both audio and DVD footage of these concerts, but it also features the 'lost' Quintet recorded for the first time. I highly recommend this to all Jazz fans, as it is a historic release within the discography of the late king of Fusion.