Miles Davis Ensemble - "Live At The Fillmore East"
(Released 9/2001 by Columbia Records 9699-85191-2, Recorded at Fillmore East NYC 3/7/70)

From Aural Innovations #18 (January 2002)

Miles Davis: Trumpet
Wayne Shorter: Tenor/Soprano Saxophone
Jack DeJohnette: Drums
Dave Holland: BassGuitar
Chick Corea: Electric Piano, Effects
Airto Moreira: Percussions

To quote an old show business axiom, "Nothing Sells like Death!" When applied to the unreleased works of Miles Davis, it becomes a truism! Since his death in 1991, there has been a flood of compilations, unreleased sessions, box sets and so forth. Considering the amount of material he recorded for Columbia during his tenure on the label (1957-1991), we'll be seeing "New" Miles releases for another 20 years!

Unbelievably, I was in attendance at this show, having become a regular at the Fillmore (For the too young, Fillmore East was located on Second Ave & Sixth Street on NYC's Lower East Side. Usually the venue featured 2 or 3 acts on the Bill eclectically booked, and hosted both old & new Rock musicians and groups. Since the venue served no Alcohol, it was open to an audience that varied in age from teens to mid-40s) the previous Fall, a snotty just-turned Sixteen year old Saxophonist/Flutist beginning to immerse himself in the seriousness of music. As part of the ritual of concert-going in those ancient days, often one would experience the music enhanced by psychedelics, so my memory of the music may have been foggy, by NOT my remembrance of the event, and how seeing/hearing MD (for the first time) would change many of my perceptions, and expand my outlook with regard to the process of making music!

This particular Ensemble (Wayne Shorter: Saxophones, Chick Corea: Electric Piano, Dave Holland: BassGuitar, Jack DeJohnette: Drums, Airto joined in Sept. '69) grew out of the "In a Silent Way" recordings in spring of 1969, and had been tested and proven during Miles' 1969 tour schedule. Although live recordings of the band were never released in the US, many International fans were able to get versions of the Antibes festival concert (7/25/69), which was broadcast live by Radio Diffusion (Paris, France) and widely Bootlegged on vinyl, and recently made available on CD by JYM.

This is an historic event in that it was the last show Saxophonist Wayne Shorter would play as a member of Miles' Band, after being an integral part of the sound for six years. Also included here is percussionist Airto Moreira, whose work began the spate of interest in utilizing a non-kit drum/percussion sound to enhance the rhythm section, and feed additional colors into the mix. The music herein is incredible from start to finish, and highlights the extremely high degree of musical intellectualism the band expressed, plus Miles blowing red hot high energy Trumpet!!!! Both sets are included on this release.

The First set opens with "Directions", which had been in the live repertoire for some time. The band just explodes even before the head is played by unison horns! The rhythm section of DeJohnette and Holland just shines, and provides a poly-rhythmic carpet onto which the soloists lay their statements. Dave Holland's work throughout displays his mastery of the instrument, without utilizing the melodramatic nonsense of "Poppin', Slappin' "Thumbin'" and generally mugging the BassGuitar which became the Bain of American JazzRock Bassists in the 1970s-1980s!

Corea's playing here is quite unreal, his technique almost beyond belief, he dazzles on and is very comfortable at the Fender Rhodes Piano. He spins out so many rhythmic and melodic ideas at amazing speeds, and when utilizing his effects pedals (Ring Modulator and Echoplex) often gets a sound very similar to his tone on Mini-Moog Synthesizer, which he began to play in early 1971. Throughout, Corea's playing confirms Miles' gift for getting the best out of his musicians, for Corea's own work in his various bands (Return to Forever, Leprechaun, Elektric band) never displayed the fund of ideas he was capable of generating, and his pieces became boring, frustrating and annoying, and were often played to excess by his bands, which generated few ideas within his sound! Shorter plays both Soprano and Tenor Saxophone on these dates, and shows all of his approaches to these pieces in highly coordinated solos. Although he was to leave Miles' working band less than a month later, here the benefits of his long association with MD allow him to use his familiarity to great advantage, both as a soloist and within band ensembles!

The band segues into "Spanish Key" and "Masqualero", both of which appear on the "Bitches Brew" LP, which was issued about a month after this concert (see my review of "the Bitches Brew Sessions", which is found elsewhere on this website) Going from theme to theme with flawless precision, all the players focus on listening to each other with great attentiveness! Miles' solos are all killer, and at this stage of his career should've been rated alongside Don Cherry and Lester Bowie as one of the deans of Out music trumpeting, integrating most of the Be-Bop inflections heard during the period of his Acoustic bands with Avant-Garde techniques and a joyous spontaneity.

Airto's contributions here are under-miked on both sets. However, when he can be heard his percussion adds great colors to the music, and he establishes himself within the line of instrumental innovators that have passed through Miles' band throughout it's existence.

The late set (which I saw) also begins with "Directions", albeit a much looser yet hotter version than the first set, featuring Holland's exquisite Bassguitar ostinado. The playing by the entire ensemble cooks with even more abandon as Corea, Miles and Shorter (his Tenor Work here is quite graceful, as he runs down the history of the horn from Coleman Hawkins, to Dexter Gordon right through to Coltrane and Albert Ayler!) spin bright stylish solos. From there they go into "Miles Runs The Voodoo Down", "Bitches Brew" and "Spanish Key", pushing the music deeper and deeper, capitalizing on great communication and awareness between the players.

Both sets end with "It's about That Time", which had closed Miles live sets for quite a few years. This Electric version comes to a crashing halt, mainly because the sets were only 45 minutes, far too short a time for instrumentalists of this ability, and, contrary to the Garbage written by Jack Chambers and Bill Cole regarding Miles' Electric music, was one of the few concessions Miles made in order to play in halls like the Fillmore! Given the music herein, one must see these writers as jive dilettantes, elitists who were just resistant to the incorporation of Electric Instruments into a "Jazz" context!

In retrospect, I'm aghast that this band was on a bill opening for "Steve Miller Band (which had an interesting Rhythm section of Tim Davis (Drums) and Lonnie Turner (BassGuitar)" and "Neil Young & Crazy Horse"! The experience, however, became a turning point for me musically, having been witness to music so strong and life affirming that it sent me into a new space regarding how music should be played, presented, and exalted! Later that year (1970), Miles boasted in an interview: "I could put together the best Rock Band in the world", and received much controversy for the statement! Judging from this release, he already had, and would continue to do so until September 1975, when a combination of health problems (Sickle Cell anemia, nodes on his vocal chords and thrombosis of the hip joint) forced him into retirement until 1981. All those who claim to be familiar with serious music must get this CD, and listen to it repeatedly!

Reviewed by Doug Walker

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