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Review: The Miles Davis Quintet, “The Bootleg Series Volume 2: Live in Europe 1969”

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Miles Davis - Bootleg 2“Directions in music by Miles Davis,” read the subtitle of the trumpeter’s late-1968 Columbia album Filles de Kilimanjaro.  It was the first, but not the last, of his albums to bear those words.  But listeners couldn’t have been expected to know which direction Davis would take with each album.  Nefertiti, recorded in June-July 1967 but released in March 1968, turned out to be Davis’ last fully acoustic LP, with its follow-up Miles in the Sky (recorded January and May ’68 and released in September) introducing electric piano, electric bass and electric guitar into the mix.  In addition to marking the beginning of Davis’ explorations with those textures, though, Miles in the Sky also marked the fifth and final album by his Second Great Quintet: Davis, Wayne Shorter (tenor saxophone), Herbie Hancock (piano), Ron Carter (bass) and Tony Williams (drums).  While all five gentlemen played on Filles, Dave Holland replaced Carter on two tracks, and Chick Corea replaced Hancock on the same two.  Those personnel changes would augur for the birth of a Third Great Quintet; this live unit would be established once Jack DeJohnette took over the drums from Williams.  The impressive line-up of Davis, Shorter, Corea, Holland and DeJohnette, though, was a short-lived one (1968-1969) and was never documented on its own in the studio.  These facts make Columbia and Legacy’s release of Miles Davis’ The Bootleg Series Volume 2: Live in Europe 1969 (88725 41853 2) all the more auspicious.

Filles de Kilimanjaro was a transitional album, innovative and avant-garde.  As critics were quick to celebrate or decry at the time, almost all vestiges of bop were gone, while the musical forms and structures were even less conventional than on the adventurous outings of the Second Great Quintet.  With Davis’ next statement, 1969’s In a Silent Way, he more fully embraced a new electric sound with lengthy musical tone poems, and plunged headfirst into proto-fusion with a cast of players including Shorter, Corea and Holland (plus John McLaughlin on guitar, Josef Zawinul on electric piano and organ, and Williams on drums).  This style, of course, found full flower on Davis’ next LP.  Whereas In a Silent Way was tender yet intense, Bitches Brew was sprawling, funky, noisy and aggressive.  It earned the jazz legend a new rock audience and his first gold record.  Columbia heralded the album’s triumph as “Miles Davis: the 15-year success story that happened overnight.”

Bootleg 2 is set against the dramatic backdrop of these landmark recordings.  Of course, the style here is still very different from either Silent Way or Bitches Brew; John McLaughlin’s scorching guitar on those albums is absent from this quintet format.  The first two CDs of Bootleg 2 find Davis, Shorter, Holland, Corea and DeJohnette in France at the Antibes Jazz Festival on July 25 and 26, 1969, just days before the release of In a Silent Way.  The third disc fast-forwards to November 5 for a mostly-acoustic Stockholm gig as part of George Wein’s “Newport Jazz Festival in Europe.” Finally, the DVD ends up a couple of days later, on November 7, for a performance at the Berlin Philharmonie.  (To put this in perspective, sessions for Bitches Brew would take place on August 19-21, 1969 in New York, and the earth-shattering album would see release the following April.)

We delve into The Bootleg Series Volume 2 after the jump!

This is stand-up-and-listen jazz that demands your attention, a hypnotic collision of harmonic and rhythmic sojourns into the unexpected.  During these performances, leader Davis takes one song into the next seamlessly, with no pauses, leaving the listener waiting with bated breath to see just where he’ll travel next.  (These concerts were recorded for radio broadcast, and those broadcast masters are the source of this Bootleg volume.  All sound exceptional and far better than on any previous bootleg incarnation.)  And Davis literally could have performed anything from an incredibly diverse book.  This period was the only such one in his career when he might reach back to Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn’s “I Fall in Love Too Easily” in between “Spanish Key” from Bitches Brew and “Masqualero” from the 1967 Sorcerer, as he did in the July 26 concert.  Whether a standard, a foray into modal jazz composition or looser, open-ended playing, Davis and this “lost band” were ready to approach each piece with drive and focus.

On these recordings, Davis sounds emboldened by the new feel of the band.  Dave Holland was a bit less subtle and intimate than Ron Carter, and Jack DeJohnette’s roiling drums, too, brought a different flourish than the style of Tony Williams.  At his perch from the electric piano, Corea introduced a prominent new character to the instrument’s role in the arrangements.  Shorter, a holdover from the last line-up, was supremely adaptable.  Highlights are numerous, but most mind-blowing might be the July 25 performance of “Milestones,” an early Davis experiment in writing modally.  (It also provided the title of his 1958 album, though first pressings labelled the song as “Miles” so as not to be confused with an earlier “Milestones.”  Got that?)  Of course the shape and style here is wholly different than the original take (which had Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane on saxophones, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on double bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums!) but it’s stunning to hear the quintet so deftly and surprisingly veer from the relief of the familiar riff into nearly fifteen minutes of uncharted territory.  Corea’s shimmering electric piano and Dave Holland’s slinky double bass engage in some particularly spellbinding interplay as the tune wends its way to a conclusion (and into the prolific Shorter’s “Footprints”).   Tackling these extended compositions, each man knew when to play, but just as importantly, when not to play.

Davis was masterful at assembling a set list and striking the right balance of material; whereas he reached back on the July 25 show for “Milestones” and an enthusiastically-received bebop revival on Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight,” he dipped into the reflection of “I Fall in Love Too Easily” the next night.  The seamless transition from the fluidly rhythmic, funky “Spanish Key” into the languid “Fall in Love” is a stunning one.  Davis’ trumpet expresses the lyrics as vividly as any vocal interpreter: “I fall in love too easily/I fall in love too fast/I fall in love too terribly hard/For love to ever last.”  Though his music was taking him in barrier-breaking and genre-defying directions that few vocalists could attempt, the all-too-brief performance of “Fall in Love” is a reminder that Davis once claimed, “I learnt phrasing from all of Sinatra’s early recordings.”  And no matter how outré the setting, Davis always maintained phrasing that, like Sinatra’s, was truly and singularly his own.  “I Fall in Love” would be out of his book by 1970, and though he soon abandoned standards altogether, he never completely turned his back on ballads, love songs, or even pop; witness his 1980s recordings of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” or the Michael Jackson hit “Human Nature.”

Both July performances made room for an embryonic “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” (with Corea taking a particularly aggressive solo in the July 26 set) plus the thunderous opening of Josef Zawinul’s “Directions” and the closing statement of “Sanctuary” (sans solos) into “The Theme,” but the rest of the line-up each night was unique.  Davis dug into his catalogue for his composition “No Blues” on July 26, on which he’s in tune with Holland and DeJohnette for impressive solos.

Much had changed by the time of Bootleg’s final two recordings, one on DVD and one on CD.  The performance of November 5, 1969 in Stockholm, on CD, begins with a tense, jittery performance of “Bitches Brew.”  (The composition still hadn’t been released by the time of the Stockholm broadcast.)  Led by Davis’ forceful horn, “Bitches” here is loud, vigorous, clattering and confident, despite the fact that Chick Corea’s electric piano crackles and burbles before giving out completely.  There’s something, indeed, exciting about this technical difficulty leading to an additional layer of improvisation.  Corea returns, seemingly undeterred, on acoustic piano for the rest of the short set of three lengthy excursions into Shorter’s own compositions: “Paraphernalia” (from Miles in the Sky), “Nefertiti” (from the album of the same name) and “Masqualero” (from Sorcerer).  The sound is acoustic but the attitude is all electric.  There was a storm brewing when these five men took the stage together.

Davis is filled with invention on the unusual “Nefertiti,” his familiar and even lovely tone captivating in the quieter passages here.  Shorter’s composition was quite radical for its time, building on a bebop framework but emphasizing the improvisation of the rhythm section rather than of Davis’ and Shorter’s trumpet and sax, respectively (free bop, some have called it).  Corea hammers home the slinky vibe of the performance as Davis and Shorter spellbindingly state the repeated melodic phrase, with the DeJohnette and Holland creating moments of spontaneous swing with gleeful abandon.  Alas, the exotic, abstract flourishes of “Masqualero” are sadly cut short, though it’s no fault of the Bootleg team.  The track fades at about the eight-minute mark as in the original broadcast.  One bonus track sweetens the pot: a performance from the second set that evening of Chick Corea’s tense, expansive “This,” otherwise officially unrecorded by Davis.  “This” points towards a more free direction the pianist/composer would soon pursue.

Rounding out this volume of The Bootleg Series is the November 7, 1969 concert at the Berliner Jazztage in the Berlin Philharmonie.  The 45-minute performance is preserved on DVD in vivid color.  Those who remember the 1967 concert film included in the first Bootleg set will immediately notice that Miles and his band’s natty threads have been replaced with hip, casual attire: bright scarves, vests and shirts.  Despite looser garb, however, the quintet members all evince quiet ferocity and sheer telepathy with one another in a setting which finds the audience sections surrounding the stage.  The video affords plenty of close-ups of the musicians, affording almost as much intimacy as must have been experienced by those lucky front-row patrons.  Though the players only infrequently acknowledge one another with a glance, they’re locked as one unit into a sizzling groove for the fluid set.  (Just watch them make the transition from “Bitches Brew” into “It’s About That Time.”)  When Davis and Shorter depart the stage at one point, the camera captures the rhythm section’s intuitive connection as they veer from minimalism to full-on attack.  During “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” Davis assumes the stance familiar to any owner of his Tribute to Jack Johnson LP, completely in the moment.  It’s difficult to turn away from his magnetic presence as he glides effortlessly into a melancholic “Sanctuary.”  Though all too short, this concert is required viewing for its portrait of an artist at the musical crossroads of his past, present and future.

Producers Richard Seidel and Michael Cuscuna have assembled a typically top-notch team for this release including Mark Wilder and Maria Triana (remastering engineers) and Josef Woodard (liner notes).  Woodard’s lengthy essay puts the quintet’s far-reaching explorations in perspective.  Alas, reading the essay is a bit unwieldy, as all of the notes are printed on the back of a foldout poster of Miles.  Though a booklet would have been preferable, the set is otherwise well-designed.  “I wish this band had been recorded live because it really was a bad motherfucker…Columbia missed out on the whole fucking thing.”  So wrote Miles Davis in his 1989 autobiography.  Miles, it’s better late than never – you’ve finally gotten your wish.  With The Bootleg Series Volume 2, this quintet is lost no more.

Written by Joe Marchese

February 1, 2013 at 09:19

Posted in Box Sets, Miles Davis, News, Reviews

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One Response

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  1. I got this set yesterday and agree with you 100%. Listening to it, I even thought of the same adjective to describe DeJohnette’s drums- “roiling” is exactly what he’s doing throughout the sets. And the complaint about the liner notes being printed on the back of the poster is echoed as well. I was happy that this time they designed the package with a pocket (Bootleg Vol. 1 has the booklet sitting loosely in the folded package) but was disappointed to find I had to read the notes on a huge poster. I fear it won’t bear up to repeated opening/closing to reread the notes. I was tempted to scan it when I had it open the first time.
    But my OCD doesn’t detract from a collection of great music, even though I did own half of it already. The first disc was even released by Sony of Japan in the early 90s. so it hasn’t only been available as a bootleg.

    Jason Michael

    February 1, 2013 at 14:57

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