Jazz In Space

by Doug Walker

Miles Davis: "The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions"

Jimi Hendrix/Band of Gypsies - "Live At The Fillmore"
Herbie Hancock - "Headhunters"

From Aural Innovations #6 (April 1999)

Miles Davis: "The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions" 1969-1970"

Disc one: "Pharaoh's Dance", "Bitches Brew", "Spanish Key", "John McLaughlin", "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down", "Sanctuary"

Ron Carter: Acoustic Bass
Dave Holland: Acoustic Bass, BassGuitar
Harvey Brooks: Acoustic Bass, BassGuitar
Bennie Maupin: Bass Clarinet, Saxello
Wayne Shorter: Soprano Saxophone
John McLaughlin: Guitar, Effects
Chick Corea: Keyboards
Larry Young: Keyboards
Josef Zawinul: Keyboards
Don Alias: Drums, Percussion
Jack DeJohnette: Drums
Lennie White: Drums
Jim Riley: Percussion
Aorta Mortar: Percussion

In the summer of 1969, the forces that formed the "Jazz-Rock" movement of the 1970's were beginning to come together. Rock musicians who had developed instrumental technique started moving away from "Pop" forms to structures with more substantial musical values. In "Jazz" there was a concomitant movement. An interest on the part of the musicians to capture the rhythmic energy of rock music, and the visceral quality of that type of musical presentation and couple it with the instrumental competence that had become the staple of the music since the inception of the music itself! Musicians as diverse as Jeremy Steig, Tony Williams, Larry Young, Jimi Hendrix, Steve Marcus, Buddy Miles, Gary Burton, Steve Winwood, Felix Caveleri, Sonny Sharrock, Larry Coryell, Jack Bruce, and others formed a mixture of players (based in NYC) who knew each other's styles via the incessant jamming which makes up so much of a musician's existence in the Big Apple.

Many of the Jazz players involved in this scene had developed their craft in bands lead by Miles Davis and Cannon Ball Adderly, both of whom had been experimenting with "Rock" rhythms and modal composition since 1965. Those who had played with Miles had been deeply effected by the sound created by the Hendrix Experience, the rhythmic thrust of Sly, James Brown, and the previous mid-60's Miles bands had developed music that had much to do with the innovations that Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler and John Coltrane brought into the music (i.e., Asian and African influences, African American Gospel, modality, healthy doses of Atonalism and intense chromaticism).

By April of 1969, the Miles grouping of Herbie Hancock (Piano), Wayne Shorter (Tenor and Soprano Saxes), Ron Carter (Acoustic Bass) and Tony Williams (Drums) had split, all intending to develop solo careers.

Encouraged by Bassist Dave Holland (who'd replaced Carter in 10/68), Tony Williams, (who had been jamming with Organist Larry Young) contacted John McLaughlin in the UK, inviting him to join the new band. Young had already accepted. Upon arrival in NYC, McLaughlin was invited to play the gig Williams had with Miles that evening. Miles (it was reported) was stunned at the ability of the newcomer, in particular his having already absorbed many of Jimi Hendrix' guitar sounds and technical innovations, and invited McLaughlin to a recording session the next day! That session turned out to be the LP "IN A SILENT WAY", Miles first attempt at recording music not based upon "traditional Hard Bop" rhythms. Declining an offer to join Miles group outright, McLaughlin, Williams, and Young began to function as TONY WILLIAMS' LIFETIME, recording their first LP (a 2 LP set!) "EMERGENCY" in May '69!

"LIFETIME" deserves an article of their own. Easily one of the most musically advanced groups in the history of the music, the group's two LP's showed that both Jazz and Rock could function together without sentimentality, in an aggressive mixture that operated on music's cutting edge.

During this period Miles had assembled a road band which toured during July/August 1969, working through many of the themes that would appear on "Bitches Brew". This group (Chick Corea: Electric Piano, Dave Holland: Bass, Jack DeJohnette: Drums, Wayne Shorter: Saxes) became the core of Davis' "stock company" of musicians who would appear on his records for the next two years.

On August 19, 1969, Miles assembled the core group, plus Bennie Maupin, Josef Zawinul, Don Alias, Jim Riley (Jumma Sultan), John McLaughlin, Harvey Brooks, and Lennie White, running through then recording "Bitches Brew", "Sanctuary", and working on Zawinul's "Pharaoh's Dance". The group worked on sections of the tune, whilst Miles and producer Teo Macero made notes regarding the overdubs and tape loops used as the pieces were mixed and produced for the release.

On this vaunted reissue we get to hear only the original release mixes, and they sound as fresh as when first issued. But one longs for the complete unscrambled takes, despite the attempts made to present track notes and diagrams of the overdubbed sections. The whole sound must have been stellar, and represents a major change from chord based improvisation of the previous era to the concept of "Time, No (Chord) Changes". Rhythmic variations are created by piling many rhythms one on top of another by the multiple Drummers, Percussionists, Pianists and McLaughlin's Guitar.

The whole sound therefore expands, so the soloists can reach for heights without having to lead the rhythm section in. The music is intensely Chromatic, the Electric Keyboards exploit the entire range of the vast repertoire of sounds inherent, and the Guitar fully integrates the ideas regarding rhythmic coming and extremely emotional and skillful soloing that Hendrix opened up.

The other piece of the music is the great arranging of the reeds. Bennie Maupin (BsCl, Sop/Tenor Saxes, Afl), Wayne Shorter (Soprano Sax) contribute more colors, ripping solos and fine playing in the ensembles, the rhythmic guidelines of the music allows the horns to develop the solos based on "time, No Changes", pushing the music in a linear fashion.

Above all this Miles does his thing, exploiting bends, Bluenotes, split tones and his gorgeous sound in the middle register of the horn. And although the echo effects were added in post-production, they contribute greatly to the concept of the "plastic nature of recorded sound", an extenuation of the idea of using mutes which is well within the Jazz tradition (Miles ALWAYS made great use of the Harmon Mute on Ballads, and this would continue throughout his "Electronic Music". With Wha wha, the mute was just KILLER. Refer to "Agharta", reviewed in issue #3).

It would be great if we could get the session that produced "Pharaohs Dance", as it was cut into two, the last parts being the track titled "John McLaughlin". However, this particular release sounds great throughout, and the difference in quality is markedly better than the original CD release. "Bitches Brew" actually takes up one and one-half CD's. CD #2 begins to extend into the next series of recordings, dating from 11/19/69.

Disc Two:

Steve Grossman: Tenor and Soprano Sax
Bennie Maupin: BassClarinet
Herbie Hancock: Electric Piano
Chick Corea: Electric Piano
John McLaughlin: Guitar
Ron Carter: Acoustic Bass
Harvey Brooks: Electric Bass
Khalil Balakrishna: Sitar
Bihari Sharma: Tamboura, Tabla
Billy Cobham: Drums
Airto Moreira: Precussion

This material, which begins with track three, was recorded at Columbia on 11/19/69, and actually represents a step forward from the August sessions. Shorter had moved on, and Zawinul was involved with another tour with CannonBall Adderley, and Dave Holland was in the midst of moving to the US, and making recording dates and session as an in-demand NYC musician. Miles was beginning his use of Sitar, and was one of the few in Jazz to feature the Indian instruments on a regular basis (Yousef Lateef is the only other that comes to mind).

"Great Expectations" and "Orange Lady" were released in 1974 as side one of the "Big Fun" double LP. The tracks maintain deep groves, and Miles does lots of soloing on both, with Harmon mute, and echo effects, the basses playing a line reminiscent of "Peter Gunn" (which Hendrix used to constantly fiddle with), whilst Sharma and Balakrishna introduce drones and figures that reinforce the non-Western elements of the music. Billy Cobham functions marvelously in the music. Rather than display his awesome technique, Miles has him playing "Time, No Changes" in a global way, yet he is very mindful of the others. Maupin's Bass Clarinet searches through the music, opening a variety of directions and maintaining the bottom end of the sound.

"Yaphete" was unreleased until it's appearance here, a solid Jam, as is "Corrado". Miles plays out front in both tunes, blowing real "power" trumpet, and feeding well off the band's energy. Cobham is again impressive on these tunes, keeping the Rhythm section bouncing along.

McLaughlin's Guitar work is choppy on "Corrado", developing the flow as the center of the band, feeding a series of simplified chords originally found in Zawinul' s tune "In a Silent Way", but discarded during those sessions.

Disc Three:

Steve Grossman: Saxes
Wayne Shorter: Soprano Sax
Bennie Maupin:BassClarinet
Herbie Hancock: keyboards
Larry Young: Organ, Keyboards Chick Corea: Keyboards
Josef Zawinul: Keyboards
John McLaughlin: Guitars & Effects
Dave Holland: Acoustic Bass Violin, BassGuitar
Harvey Brooks: BassGuitar
Khalil Balakrishna: Sitar
Bihari Sharma: Tamboura, Tabla
Airto Moreira: Percussion
Jack DeJohnette: Drums
Billy Cobham: Drums, Triangle

This disc is given two sessions, 11/28/69 and 1/27/70. On the first session, we find Grossman in place of Wayne Shorter, who returns for the 1/28/70 session. DeJohnette returns for the 11/69 date, as does Organist Larry Young. "Trevere" opens the side, has an interesting head, and employs bop changes based on fragmented chords articulated in very short bursts of a 6/8 Rhythm for four bars, but it goes nowhere. "The Big Green Serpent" contains some fine ensemble playing by the keyboards, Young's Organ up front in the mix (Larry Young may have been the most explosive Organist of the 1960's, recording many LP's for Bluenote Records in the 60's, and Arista Records before his premature death in 1977 at age 37. A Co-founder of Tony Williams' LIFETIME, he is generally acknowledged as bringing Coltrane's Soprano Saxophone concepts to Hammond Organ).

Two takes of "The Blue Frog" are included here. The tune represents some Columbia executive's idea that Miles should issue a single to align himself more with the very lucrative "Rock" market. This little "Ditty" is heard in two takes, the first kind of wild with strong solos over a nice fatback funk groove. The second has a completely different feel, with Miles taking a beautiful solo using Harmon Mute.

"Lonely Fire" was recorded at the January 1970 session. The Indian instruments were dispensed with (although not dismissed, they participated in the band from 1971-1973), and Shorter's confident Soprano is heard, as are Josef Zawinul's Keyboards in place of Young's Organ. The tune, originally issued in 1974 on the "Big Fun" Double LP, opens with a mysterioso section, Miles using the comping by the band to perform with his "muted Ballad" tone. Zawinul lays down a drone on Farfisa Organ, and Airto floods the sound spectrum with shakers and flexitone, and Holland plays BassGuitar (which he stopped playing after leaving Miles at the end of 1970. A great loss to the music. I asked him about it in 1974 and he told me he "hated everything playing about Fender Basses, but did very much enjoy the tone of them). As the jam progresses, Shorter takes a nice solo after Miles rides the with his warm open trumpet sound, and Corea gets off one of his "Latin/Javanese" Electric Piano solos before engaging in a call and response with Zawinul and Hancock, all over a rocking beat from both DeJohnette and Cobham. More Soprano is heard, this time over piano chords, and then both horns play the head as Bass Clarinet moves underneath.

"Guinnevere" is the tune David Crosby wrote for the incredibly Wimpy and lame-ass version of Buffalo Springfield that the Rock world knew as "Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young". Miles had a tradition of including "pop" standards in his act since the 1950's, dissembling all the sentimental crap and gutting the tunes to let them become basis for improvisation. Here all three horns (Shorter on Soprano, Maupin on Tenor) state the theme, keyboards percolating underneath Holland's BassGuitar ostinado. Miles plays a truly heartbreaking solo on this, and much more of the cut is heard here than when originally issued on 1979's "Circle in the Round" compilation (ironically the cut was broadcast in it's entirety during a 116 hour Miles broadcast on WKCR-FM NYC during the summer of 1979. Response to the festival was unbelievable. Over 250,000 tuned into the broadcast, so Columbia attempted to cash in by issuing 2 compilation LPs of unissued Miles, as he had been in retirement and had not released any music since 1976). The form the tune takes is traditional, Head-Solo-Head, and in Miles' hands far more enjoyable than the original.

These tunes also allowed new technology to be introduced: New, more reliable Effects units were being made by Columbia Music's newly acquired subsidiary MAESTRO Instruments, who supplied the players with Ring Modulators, Echoplexes, and the WoodWind (or Brass) Sound Systems, a transistorized modulator with Octave divider and half a dozen alternate "Voices".

Disc Four: Same as Side three

These are from the sessions of 1/28/70 and 2/6/70, the last of this period of Miles excursions with a large group, as Miles prepared to tour to begin promotion of the yet-to-be-released "Bitches Brew" LP. The music has begun to grow more aggressive, the spacey aspect being shed somewhat by the lack of inclusion of the Indian Instruments during these dates. Shorter's composition "Feio" opens the disc, with Wayne and Miles blowing the unison melody over the shifting ground of the rhythm section. Holland plays BassGuitar on both these dates, developing a unique approach and distinctive voice on it pre-Stanley Clark's' virtuoso displays with the instrument (it sure sounds like he likes it, despite his comments). The tune grounds to a halt, and Miles urges them to play, with irritating asides from the control room. They go back into another Shorter composition, "Double Image" (which appears on the "Live/Evil" double LP, released in 3/71), Miles muted this time, McLaughlin contributing chord fragments, both drummers laying into an easy groove. The pianos burble along, Zawinul taking a solo with Ring Modulator, then Maupin gets off a lovely BassClarinet solo, above Airto's percussives, and Cobham and Dejohnette toss volley of the slow groove back and forth.

The Indian Instruments re-emerge on "Recollections", a Zawinul tune. Instantly the melody is recognized by Weather Report fans. Echoplexed Electric Piano adds some ethereal sounds behind the head, and "Time, No Changes" is employed at ballad tempo, and all get the opportunity to solo, Miles muscling in with some of his best recorded stuff during this period. Yet, in spite of the beauty of the track, it remained unreleased until this compilation was issued. "Take it or Leave it" seems just to be a fragment of the groups warm-up, nothing much happens. Columbia could've done us one better by including cuts like their piecing together of Miles at Isle of Wight (issued on "Great Rock Festivals of the 70's", a Columbia's promo issued in 1971, it had cuts by Miles, Hendrix and a few others, recorded live at Atlanta Pop 4/4/70 and Isle of Wight 8/30/70). The last track is another take of "Double Image". This one was issued on "Live/Evil", and differs somewhat from the take heard previously, mainly due to the up tempo brash attitude taken by the group.

After these sessions, Miles assembled a touring group: Dave Holland (BassGuitar, Acoustic Bass), Chick Corea (Keyboards, Effects), Keith Jarrett (Keyboards, Effects), Steve Grossman (Saxes), Jack Dejohnette (Drums), Airto (Percussion).

I got to see Miles for the first time 3/7/70, when he appeared at the Fillmore East as opener for Neil Young and Steve Miller Band, only about 6 hours after a Solar Eclipse visible throughout North America. Although I had no idea who he was, I was blown away, and almost unable to deal with the jiveness of the other two acts after Miles left the stage (he played a 60 minute set, when released as "Miles at Fillmore", it was cut to 24 minutes).

Miles' music was in flux at this point, but the innovative mixture and re-synthesis of two musical forms that have the same root music's benefits study. Miles mastery of musical Electronics in a large group setting can easily translate to the type of group interplay and dynamics found in serious SpaceRock music.

Jimi Hendrix/Band of Gypsies - "Live At The Fillmore"

Like Miles Davis, there has been a strong resurgence of interest in Jimi's work, especially on his development as a musician in the months before his death. In addition, like Miles, the industry has begun to issue some bits that have escaped issue. This 2-CD set being an excellent example of Hendrix the master soloist.

Basically, the material is a compilation of tracks from 4 sets at Fillmore (12/31/69 and 1/1/70) and fortunately, Buddy Miles is only granted a lead vocal in 4 of the 16 tracks, which can be skipped over, although the outro to his tune "Them Changes" became one of the 1975 Miles Davis' groups' signature riffs (although the key is shifted from A-min to E-flat).

The obvious drawback to the release, of course, is the fact that the thing IS a compilation, rather than a complete set (which will eventually be released as the industry runs out of stuff to release). Nonetheless, any Hendrix is bound to be great stuff, and in this, there is an ample dose of the man's genius.

"Stone Free" begins the CD, and immediately Jimi establishes the notion of playing off the minimalist drums of Buddy (Mitch Mitchell had departed in 11/69 for a vacation, only to turn up at the Fillmore 2 days after these shows, playing in Jack Bruce's excellent group, which included Guitarist Larry Coryell), and Billy Cox's ostinado Basslines and unison lines really fleshes the music out. Jimi plays a solo in this one that goes completely into space, then flirts with pure electronic music, feeding the guitar back to exploit the colors inherent in the instrument, then comes homing in to close the tune.

Both versions of "Machine Gun" smoke, as does the version of "Who Knows" included here, and there are some real gems as well, including versions of "Stepping Stone", "Izabella", "Power of Soul", "Earth Blues". His solos on "Hear My Train" are so involved and emotional, parallels with Coltrane's solos are quite appropriate. "Power of Soul" has an irresistible groove, and Jimi's solo is perfection. Billy Cox' Basstone is all bottom, and he takes old BM by the hand, leading him in the direction the Whawa has indicated.

The second disc opens with the New Year Invocation, Auld Lang Syne", which Jimi comes out and destroys, indications that this decade was to be different, and better than the last. The version of "Stepping Stone" on this disc is about as fast a version as you could get with Buddy (check the LP version on the "WarChild" release, or get hold of the original single, realize that Mitch matches intensity with intensity, some Buddy couldn't do). Really Dream Music, I can still see him standing up there when I close my Eyes ("Or was it just a trick of the Light?") This is MUST HAVE MUSIC. Anyone who plays can learn valuable lessons about how our music should be played. Any one guitar solo here would provide even veteran players about 6 months of serious study.

A close friend once led a discussion with the premise: "Why was there a surge in innovative Soloists in all field of music in the 1960's?" He identified Coltrane, Miles, Cecil Taylor, Ornette, Aloys and Alfons Kontarsky, Andre Watts, and James Marshall Hendrix as his examples. Of course, one only need listen to arrive at similar conclusions. The point is that Hendrix' contribution was an instinct that the music could progress to a higher level than just entertainment. Like too many on the above list he never got to take us with him on the journey. At least the current technology allows us to hear a wider range of his music than was available at the time of his death, and he's one of the few 60's musicians whose "Commemorative releases haven't sucked.

One of those who felt the fire of Hendrix' stuff was Herbie Hancock. After leaving Miles, he'd formed a sextet, ostensibly to continue in the direction Davis had charted in the mid-60's. The work of the sextet was solid, a little cautious despite Hancock's ease at adopting various Electric Pianos, Mellotron and other non-acoustic keyboards.

By 1973, Hancock himself had grown tired of the format, and began to alter the structure of his band to reflect the rhythmic influence of Hendrix and one Sylvester Stewart and HIS "Family Stone". The result became "HeadHunters", which became one of the best-selling releases in the history of Jazz.

The music itself revolves around the Synthesizer, which is used to lay down the unbelievably funky rhythm lines in nifty odd meters. Hancock's patented "Neo-Bop electric piano comping, Bill Summer's rocking Percussion are all constructed on top of Harvey Mason's "Outside-in-the-pocket" drumming, Bennie Maupin coloring the music with a variety of Reeds and Flutes, Paul Jackson bringing the Funk in on BassGuitar.

"Chameleon" is so familiar (it's been used for everything from TV station ID's to about a million HipHop records), yet the tune holds some wondrous BassGuitar, a killer Synthesizer solo and great R & B Tenor solos from Maupin. Some reading this might remember Mongo Santamaria's hit with "Watermelon Man" (played it in JHS Jazz Band). Hancock actually wrote this in 1963 (for Cannonball Adderley), and gives it a strong rearrangement, based around chords played on Honer Clavinet, and the unison riff of Summers (Beer Bottle) and Maupin (Alto Flute).

"Sly" is dedicated to you-know-who. Maupin makes many references to both Coltrane's and Wayne Shorter's Soprano tone and techniques in his solo. The Head is voice for Alto Flute and Soprano, Hancock's Fender Piano cool and sophisticated sounding into a bridge, then Jackson takes off as Maupin switches to Saxello to ride over the top, whilst Summers' Congas push the rhythm. "Vein Melter" is the subtlest track here, very much in the tradition of Hancock's previous group. The debt to Miles is evident, with the band working off modal chords, and attempting to utilize the "Time, No Changes" concept.

These two CD's point to different directions spawned in the early 1970's, before ideas got compromised, commercialized, and innovative music could actually cross genre' without a bunch of reactionary critics mouthing off about "purity". For the SpaceRock community the sounds offered here fit sonically with the idea of going to other worlds aurally.

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