BBC – Music – Review of Miles Davis Quintet

The first volume of this bootleg series of Miles Davis sessions featured the 1967 quintet with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. And it was, of course, good to have further examples of this band in action.

But that set’s importance pales into insignificance beside volume 2 – a 3-CD (plus DVD) package of the 1969 quintet. Here, the rhythm section has completely changed to include Chick Corea, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette.

This line-up is barely represented in Davis’ studio recordings, being heavily augmented for the Bitches Brew sessions and with Airto Moreira added on percussion for the 1970 Fillmore concert.

Later, a DVD of a 1969 Copenhagen concert surfaced on the 40th anniversary Bitches Brew package. But otherwise this is the great, largely undocumented stage in Miles’ development.

So this treasure trove of well-recorded European broadcasts from ORTF and Swedish Radio represents the first official CD set tracking Miles in transition from acoustic quintet to all-out fusion.

There are still sensitive standards, such as a leisurely ‘Round Midnight that explodes into a high-energy workout. Before that, a revisiting of Milestones threatens to unravel but somehow retains the shape of the 1958 original.

There’s an introspective reading of I Fall in Love Too Easily. Then there are explorations of the 1966-67 repertoire, Footprints and Nefertiti, as well as expositions of work-in-progress music from Bitches Brew.

The most startling revelation is Miles himself. He plays with power, range and passion, goading the rhythm section into epic battles. He enjoys savage exchanges with DeJohnette’s drums, underpins harmonic excursions by Corea’s electric piano, and encourages the roaming basslines and free exploration of Holland.

Shorter is full of fiery invention: a searing soprano solo on the second of two versions of Miles Runs the Voodoo Down is one of his finest on record. Corea’s solo that follows lurches off into free jazz territory – random tones, electronic noise, and diverse effects from drums and bass.

The latter passage is an eerie foreshadowing of Corea’s subsequent work in Circle. It’s also a fascinating glimpse of how close Miles strayed into completely free jazz territory before setting his course firmly towards fusion.

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