Jazz In Space

by Doug Walker

From Aural Innovations #3 (July 1998)

Miles Davis - "Agharta" (Columbia Records, Recorded 2/1/75 in Great Hall Osaka, Japan. Issued 6/75 in US, CD Reissue, 1991 C2K 46799. A remix of this was issued by Columbia Records 8/97)

In the 23 years since this music was recorded and released, revisionist historians have written a ton of Bullshit regarding Miles' Electric music and this band in particular! In general, those idiot jazzbo critics who panned this music now all seem to love it, choosing not to recall the consternation this recording met when it first appeared!

Like many musicians, I discovered Miles while in High School, just at the point (1969) his music was beginning to display the fact he was aware of the innovations taking place in both Electronic & Rock music! Naturally, MD was creating lots of controversy, hence making him an even more attractive figure in my adolescent eyes!

After attending my first MD concert (3/10/70 at Fillmore East), I became totally convinced that his directions were true, and continued to see his stuff whenever possible to a total of 24 times in 5 years! I remember raucous dates (especially 11/26/71 NYC) at which pro-Electric Miles fans fought verbal battles (over the volume of the music!!!) with then "Mouldy Figs' who'd been silly enough to be upset he wasn't playing "Seven Steps' or "My Funny Valentine"! By the time Reggie Lucas (Guitars) and Pete Cosey (Guitars, Synth, Percussion) joined, most of the overt "Be-Bop/Hard Bop" elements had been purged for a rockin' post-Hendrixian sound soaked in the concepts and technique of the FreeJazz Community.

It was with this lineup that the Jazz community flipped completely (even to the extent of giving reviews of "No Stars -1/2" for this band's performances in places like "Downbeat" Yet it is this very music that should be studied by SpaceRock musicians as a textbook of techniques and method of Improvisation, and for how to develop individual bands' sound ideosyncracies into an organic-sounding whole!

The set opens with the mistitled "PRELUDE", we actually jump into it at the start of "RATED X", Miles plunging into the fray with some great Organ, kicking in the tempo of the groove! All the standard Miles techniques are here, including the stoptime intro of Michael Henderson's fat Basswork! Miles injects more Keyboard, then guitarists Pete Cosey & Reggie Lucas funk us up to Miles Whawha Trumpet, pretty as a March Rose, blooming and blanching under the hot rhythms from the band! Mtume's straight Eight on the Conga returning the oppressed to Africa Via OuterSpace! Kudos also to Al Foster. Listen close under the vamp behind Miles' solos, the hihats driving his rhythms, which he breaks up in a very "Phillie Joe Jones" Fashion!

Miles' hits the stoptime again, then drops out as Sonny Fortune takes it! A flurry on conventionalisms as he blows us down the history of Be-Bop! Miles adds more organ, a backdrop to the Guitar Army behind the track.

Pete Cosey's up next, conjuring up then five years gone Jimi, utilizing an EMS GuitarSynthesizer to control panning & echo! His solo is a knockout, and shows how deep he understands the use of Electronic Guitar; so underecognized a player, like Sonny Sharrock he utilizies an amazing vocabulary of guitar techniques! Reggie Lucas' sympathetic Rhythm guitaring, and Foster's Drumming keep us rocking out, Miles on Organ into Stoptime, the percussion bouncing the groove back and forth into "CALYPSO FREELIMO" (Dedicated to the freedom movement in Guinea-Basseau), and another of Miles "tough but tender" solos, still "in the Tradition" of his standard-setting "Jazz" sound, but informed by the otherworld Electronics can lead musicians into! Henderson rolls another groove into a tune from "on the Corner" (If you SpaceRockers haven't heard "On the Corner", get it imediately!) Fortune solos here on Soprano, a more appropriate choice than his Bop Alto sound, and both Cosey & Mtume inject some (so low in the mix) Synthesizer sounds!

Here Cosey puts it down hard, a swinging Electric solo, and Lucas' Rhythm just kills, right out of "Tales of Kidd Funkadelic" handbook. Miles leads the band through some dynamics exercises, then restates the theme, with Mtume cutting in with berimbau same way he cuts hip-hop records

Miles announces "MAIYSHA" with Organ chords, then Fortune's Flute sings the Melody, an almost straight Samba backing from a band with an excess of ability, and such command of ALL the music! Cosey comes in again, with a Blues solo to breakup the joint. Miles floats in, sounding closer to his destination... stoptime, dropouts and nice little extras like the band coming in on the Up-beat, Foster hitting his offtime, Fortune and Miles both turning in Romantic solos, the trumpet/wha dealing expertly, Miles becoming mocking and snotty in the chorus, making you hang on every note, bending the hell out of the his Bluenotes, Cosey with obligati back into the verse, sandpaper-texture Flute and guitar starting to take us home, Soprano showing up in time to add a word or two, and DISC ONE IS OVER suddenly!

This is an example of the terrible editing Miles' work received from Columbia with respect to his live work, a situation that (in this writer's opinion) manifests itself in almost every one of the man's Live LP releases until after his death in 1991! During the 70's period, Columbia recorded every one of MD's concerts, and has yet to release ANY of these, preferring to milk the MD cow for the next 50 years! (I guess I'll be in my 70's before the NYC shows from this tour get legit releases.)

Disc two opens with "WHAT I SAY?", again mistitled! A study in the use of modality, the entire piece rests on the minor chords articulated by Miles on Organ. MD's keyboard work is like noone else. Simple, but so effective! Mtume's line again summoning us home, and Fortune chimes in with more appropriate Alto work, his tone deeper and more expansive! Henderson's fat tone hits us like a combo of Paul Chambers and Larry Graham, while Lucas sets up the vamp, Cosey goes to work yet again, the FuzzBassGuitar killing on this bit!

Then we go uptempo into a major seventh bag for MDs' solo. Whether open, muted or Whawhaed, his work stands in correction for all the jazzbo idiots who claim he wasn't playing in this band. His solo IS standard MILES DAVIS, never out of the middle register, a marvel of the conservation and editing of ideas from his vast experience in shaping Jazz of the postwar period!

Organ again opens the next section, Flute, percussion and Synthesizer throw it back and forth, Foster kicking in the new groove, a pulsating 4/4, while Flute plays whole tones over distorted Guitar chords, and Miles shoves them aside for another Trumpet ride! The rhythm section modifies the groove, Lucas and Foster pushing on the beat, then slacking off, in soft dynamic to the end of the piece

A quick uptempo interlude suggests the "JACK JOHNSON" groove, which they ease very slowly into. Cosey begins burnin' again, a short hot statement, then back to the Spacey vibe for more Electric Trumpet from the master!

"JACK JOHNSON" finally comes in a blaze, Cosey back on top, Guitar hitting long sustains, on the edge of the feedback, then modified by GuitarSynth, while Lucas feeds in more chords to the progression, the dynamics changing as the Trumpet retorts and changes the direction from that given by Guitar. Percussion and Organ dominate in the last section, guitars weaving a complex harmonic tapestry behind the group, the end of a long rewarding musical excursion! Flute and Guitar respond to the last bits of the musical discussion, which ends on a note of mystery.

Obviously a blueprint for bands like OZRIC TENTACLES/SOFT MACHINE/KING CRIMSON (and even ALIEN PLANETSCAPES), this music more than maintains it's relevance to the SPACEROCK scene, and the sounds herein contain a wealth of ideas for composers and performers of SpaceRock music!

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