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Legendary ‘lost’ Betty Davis recording sessions from 1969 (with Miles Davis) have been found!

Nope, not Bette Davis, an ass-kicking woman in her own right. This is about Betty Davis, born Betty Mabry, who married and divorced none other than Miles Davis in 1968/69, during which time she introduced the trumpet master to the music of Hendrix and Sly Stone; in his memoir Miles credited Betty with sparking the direction his music would take in the 1970s. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Miles’ legendary 1970 album Bitches Brew is unimaginable without the contributions of Betty Davis.

Betty Davis released three incredibly vital funk albums in the mid-1970s: Betty Davis, They Say I’m Different, and Nasty Gal—all three albums have been rescued from unjust obscurity by Light in the Attic Records. In 2009 Light in the Attic also put out Is It Love or Desire, a full album Betty Davis recorded in 1976 that had never been released.

Now Light in the Attic is back with more Betty Davis treasures—the centerpiece being previously unreleased music from sessions at Columbia’s 52nd Street Studios on May 14 and 20, 1969, sessions at which Miles Davis and Teo Macero served as the producers. The impressive lineup of musicians who participated included Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, John McLaughlin, and Mitch Mitchell from the Jimi Hendrix Experience. During the session the musicians covered Cream and Creedence Clearwater Revival and recorded originals by Betty. However, the songs have never been released—until now.

Remastered from the original analog master tapes, the album—released this week—is called Betty Davis: The Columbia Years 1968-1969. True to its title, the album also includes a Los Angeles session from 1968 that featured the great Hugh Masekela and members of the Crusaders.

More after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
For some reason, Miles Davis was super into Scritti Politti
03:17 pm


Miles Davis
Scritti Politti
Green Gartside

A few months ago a friend’s dad, while clearing out his attic, came upon three capacious boxes of LPs he wanted to get rid of; many of the albums had been purchased by his kids in the mid-1980s, with the rest representing the his own generation’s dollar-bin oompah, lounge, or folk (The Village Stompers?) and the like. I ended up buying the lot with another guy for forty bucks—an insanely great deal even if there was a ton of dross in the mix. In addition to low-rated fare like Jermaine Jackson’s Let Me Tickle Your Fancy and Apollonia 6‘s only full-length, I ended up with albums by Throwing Muses, Cocteau Twins, Donovan, Adam and the Ants, Big Daddy Kane, Duran Duran, Johnny Cash, and the Smithereens. Pretty good!

In among this haul was Scritti Politti’s Cupid & Psyche 85, featuring a band I had scarcely thought about since the days when they were still making it onto the charts. The quality is noticeably high if also noticeably far more MOR than the cuts that had made them so distinctive in the period before 1985.

The main figure of Scritti Politti was named Green Gartside, a six-foot-six Welshman who as a teenager had been a member of the Young Communist League. Similar to David Byrne, perhaps, Gartside was a new waver notable for his high intellect, a trait signaled by the name he chose for his production company—Jouissance Ltd., which referenced the writings of Jacques Lacan—as well as his habit of hanging out with Jacques Derrida (!).

Even if you’re having trouble differentiating Scritti Politti from EBN-OZN, Aztec Camera or the Associates, it’s likely you would recognize the album’s biggest hit, “Perfect Way,” if you heard it. Cupid & Psyche 85 must have caught the ear of legendary trumpeter Miles Davis, for Davis promptly recorded a cover of “Perfect Way” for his 1986 album Tutu, a far cry from Davis’ heyday that became a surprise hit by catching the still-being-defined NPR demographic in just the right way.



When you secure Miles Davis to record something for your album, MAKE SURE YOU GET PICTURES.
For their next album, Scritti Politti was given the extraordinary opportunity of having Miles Davis agree to record something for their album, so he appears on the first single off their 1988 album Provision, the awkwardly titled “Oh Patti (Don’t Feel Sorry for Loverboy),” for which Davis supplies a solo as well as some additional noodling.

To my ear, “Oh Patti (Don’t Feel Sorry for Loverboy)” is about two unfortunate steps closer to, say, Howard Jones to stand out, as it succumbs to a welter of bland ‘80s pop conventions. It lacks a good melody and most of the other qualities that made “Perfect Way” such a memorable effort. Indeed, one can’t help but wonder if the legendarily cranky Miles was privately disappointed at the effort.

Many years later, Anthony Reynolds interviewed Green Gartside about the band’s encounter with the iconic jazzman:

Reynolds: I think a lot of [Davis’] final works—Tutu in particular—have transcended their era now. I think maybe at the time a lot of people heard it as Miles trying to be hip and down with MTV or whatever, but I think it’s beyond that now.

Gartside: Yeah, I remember being at his place and he was still very actively interested in music and very discerning and listened to a lot. Including his own stuff. I remember he had a whole wall of recordings of himself playing live in various places and he would go very specifically to find one gig say that he did in Germany eighteen months earlier where he’d played something that he particularly liked. And he’s play it for us. And that showed someone who really did know where he was at. A lot of people thought he had lost it but not at all. He was also very into hip-hop and into listening to himself very critically.


AR: Did Miles seek you out?

GG: Yeah, he did actually. I didn’t. I made no effort. He rang me first and kept on ringing. When I got back to London he’d ring me at odd times of the night and day and talk about working together and asked me to write stuff. It was strange.

AR: Did you ever figure out why he was drawn to you? I can imagine, after hearing the Cupid & Psyche album that he loved the production of it as much as anything. Cos he had a very progressive ... aesthetic.

GG: Yeah. He was interesting, and he told me that as far as his interest in me and my work went, he liked the attention to detail and the whole approach to vocals and melody reminded him of some Latin American music that had interested him years before. I can’t remember the names of the singers but that kind of non-ornamented non-vibrato. In a way that like, I guess he played very often. So yeah we had some interesting discussions about that kind of stuff.

After the jump, watch the video for Scritti Politti’s “Oh Patti (Don’t Feel Sorry for Loverboy)” with guest trumpeter Miles Davis…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Pimpin’ ain’t easy: Miles Davis on ‘Miami Vice’
11:20 am


Miles Davis
Miami Vice

One thing about Miles Davis, he’s difficult to mistake for anyone else on the planet. With his high forehead, pinched features, and ultra-raspy voice, he’s so incredibly distinctive a person that it rather impedes any endeavors he might make into vanish into a role in an actorly way—he’s always unmistakably “Miles Davis.” For whatever reason (probably $$$), in 1985 the most restless and innovative jazz musician of the 20th century decided that he wanted to take part in an episode of Miami Vice, at that time one of the hottest shows on TV. Watching the episode, it’s easy to see the appeal the show must have had at the time, the plot is threadbare and the acting attitudinal, but you get the trappings of an R-rated crime thriller without having to think too hard about it.

Davis appeared on season 2, episode 6, “Junk Love.” The idea is that Crockett and Tubbs arrest the owner of a whorehouse, a dude named “Ivory Jones”—played by Miles. They realize that a local druglord (of course) is obsessed with one of his prostitutes…. do you really want me to go on? The key here is that Ivory is a scumbag but collaborating with the local constabulary, which means we get plenty of scenes of him hanging out with Crockett and Tubbs. It’s a challenge to watch Don Johnson and not perceive him as doing a Kevin Costner imitation, but Costner wasn’t very well known yet. Most of Davis’ dialogue is semi-incomprehensible, but you haven’t lived until you’ve seen the genius behind Bitches Brew croak, “Watch that big cabin cruiser, he has a thing about them.”

Musical cues include Robert Plant’s “Little by Little,” Wang Chung’s “True Love,” and Bryan Ferry’s “Slave To Love.”

This episode is, unfortunately, only available on Hulu—actually the Cloo network, but it amounts to the same thing.

Thank you Joe Yachanin!

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Music meant for the Cosmos: Watch an intense Miles Davis concert from the ‘Bitches Brew’ era
09:31 am


Miles Davis

Miles Davis
God, is this great. Here we have the incredible Miles Davis performance from the Tanglewood music festival, held in Lenox, Massachusetts, during August 1970. Earlier in the year, Miles released his landmark double album, Bitches Brew, and though the fusion of jazz and rock heard in the grooves was controversial amongst jazz purists, it was a big hit in the rock world. Thus, Davis found himself playing for a new and expanded audience, with the Tanglewood gig being one of the biggest shows he had played yet. The professionally shot video was recently uploaded to YouTube by the good folks at Music Vault, who own the rights.

Here’s an excerpt from their first-rate notes on the event:

Other than his appearance at the Isle of Wight Festival later this same month, the Tanglewood performance was possibly the largest audience that Miles Davis had encountered up to this point. His extraordinary band, containing many soon to be legendary musicians, was all deeply immersed in the early experiments into electric instrumentation. This incendiary performance captures Miles embracing a rock dynamic in his music that was more electric, more funky, more rhythmic, and simply more “out there” than anything that had proceeded it.

Much of the material performed this night derives from Miles’ studio sessions during the groundbreaking In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew album sessions. Because the performance remains one long continuous suite, it allows one to follow the flow and logic of the music over an extended period of time. This continual flow, devoid of announcements identifying the songs, often left critics and some listeners confused, but focused listening reveals that distinct changes are taking place. Miles is thoroughly in control of the musical direction at all times, whether he is in the forefront or not. Miles guides the music back to particular vamps or themes, continually bringing focus to the group improvisations. The swift and agile response of the musicians to Miles’ cues and coded phrases is truly remarkable and is a primary reason for the relentless intensity of this music.

Miles and his group were opening for Santana that night, as Carlos Santana had hand-selected Davis for the slot. Years later, Carlos had this to say about the performance: “The played music meant for the cosmos. It was out, it was in, it was unreal, and it was oh so glorious.”

The band:

Miles Davis - trumpet
Gary Bartz - soprano and alto sax
Chick Corea - electric piano
Keith Jarrett - organ, electric piano
Dave Holland - electric and acoustic bass
Jack DeJohnette - drums
Airto Moriera – percussion


Posted by Bart Bealmear | Leave a comment
New boxed set reveals John Coltrane created ‘terror’ during final tour with Miles Davis, 1960
11:05 am


Miles Davis
John Coltrane

All of You: The Final Tour, 1960
In 1955, Miles Davis hired an up-and-coming musician named John Coltrane to play in his group. Over the next couple of years, the team-up produced some incredible music, but the personal relationship between the trumpeter/leader and the saxophonist was never steady. Backstage at a gig in the spring of 1957, Miles slapped Coltrane and then punched him in the stomach; Trane’s only response was to quit the band.

Coltrane returned to join Davis’ sextet later in the year, but during that short time away he had continued to make a name for himself as a group member, bandleader and recording artist in his own right. Trane played on Miles’ Kind of Blue (1959), now considered one of the cornerstones of the jazz genre, and accompanied Davis on a European tour in 1960, but mentally he was focused on his own music. Miles later admitted Coltrane “was ready to move out before we left.”
Kind of Blue
The spring 1960 European tour was spread out over twenty cities in nine countries. The new boxed set, All of You: The Last Tour, 1960 includes recordings from eight of those performances. Though the Quintet sounds fantastic as a unit, Coltrane’s solos are so unusual they caused quite a stir at the time. Kind of Blue is a lovely record that is also easy on the ears, but Trane was doing his best to make this music sound ugly.

Journalist Frank Tenot witnessed the first show of the tour in Paris: “People were very surprised why there was no John Coltrane like on Kind of Blue. So, part of the audience thinks that Coltrane doesn’t play too well, that he was playing the wrong notes, involuntarily.” Tenot went backstage after the show to tell the saxophonist, “You’re too new for the people… you go too far.” Coltrane just smiled and said, “I don’t go far enough.”

Other critics who witnessed the shows wished that Trane had held back. One reporter called his solos “scandalous,” and wrote that they “bore no relationship whatsoever with playing the saxophone.” Another writer was so horrified he equated Coltrane’s solos with the very concept of “terror.”
Trane in pain
As the leader, Davis takes the first solo during every song on these recordings, and as much as I dig Miles—his solo turns are as interesting and as exquisite as ever—after a couple of tracks, I found myself waiting for Coltrane to step up and blow me away. And he would do just that. Every time. It’s fascinating to hear him push the material—and thus, the band—especially as this was Miles’ group, not his. The fact that we now know he had mentally moved on from his role with Davis, as well as facing negative reactions to his output, only makes listening to these tracks all the more absorbing.
John Coltrane and Miles Davis
The Miles Davis Quintet returned to the states on April 11th, and it wouldn’t be long before Coltrane would make his exit. By then, Trane had made a name for himself and was well on his to becoming one of the titans of jazz.
John Coltrane
Some of the recordings on the boxed set are taken from radio broadcasts, while others were captured privately by audience members. Initially, my expectations were somewhat low as far as the fidelity of these live tapes—which date from over a half century ago—but aside from a couple of muddy sounding tracks and occasional issues with how the musicians were mic’d, the sound quality ranges from very good to surprisingly great. Hear for yourself, as we have an exclusive preview track, an up tempo version of “So What,” recorded in Stockholm, Sweden on March 22nd, 1960. The faster beat and Trane’s dissonant solo result in something excitingly different than the subdued mood created for the familiar Kind of Blue version. Enjoy.

All of You: The Last Tour, 1960 will be released on December 2nd.

Here’s a 1959 TV clip of “So What” played at a pace that more closely resembles the one found on Kind of Blue, but with Coltrane beginning to stretch, feeling his way towards the type of solos he would play on his final tour with Miles:


Posted by Bart Bealmear | Leave a comment
Extreme Jazz: Miles Davis at the cutting edge of of the cutting edge, live in Vienna, 1973
07:17 pm


Miles Davis

In the work of German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen—who Miles Davis admitted was a huge influence on him musically—there is a trademark thing he does where one sound will suddenly cut through all the rest, like some sort of electronic squiggle noise, distinguishing itself from everything else going on—the audio version of a shape, if that makes any sense—and then suddenly it’s gone again. There’s dissonance and then there’s a sudden sonic counterpoint to that, as can be heard in the 1973 concert appearance by Miles Davis and his septet recorded in Vienna.

In the foreground, you have Miles’ wasp-like trumpet, Dave Liebman’s sax and flute and the inspired to the point of insanity fretwork of Reggie Lucas and Pete Cosey, whose wailing guitars shrieking through pedal effects rise up for a moment and then scurry away. Bassist Michael Henderson, drummer Al Foster and percussionist James Mtume keep the music from fragmenting into atomic particles. Everything is in service of an utterly monstrous cosmic groove here. Even the guitars are often used in a sort of percussive manner—not rhythmic—giving the music a dangerous, propulsive edge that occupies the spot where the Venn diagram intersects spacerock with Fela Kuti’s deepest, darkest funk workouts and Can, The Pop Group and Jimi Hendrix’s “Band of Gypsys.”

It’s fascinating to get to see the hands of the players here, especially Michael Henderson’s nimble fingers and Pete Cosey’s astonishing twelve-string guitar solo at the 30 minute mark that sounds just like Snakefinger!

If I’m to be honest, of the hundreds of hours of possibilities, if I’m going to pull out a Miles Davis CD, it’s usually—almost always—going to be Agharta, Pangaea or Dark Magus. I gravitate to these very specific “Electric Miles” albums instead of the others because the early 70s Keith Jarrett or Chick Corea-era live stuff just sounds too “noodley” to me. I bought Live Evil expecting another Dark Magus, but I think it sucks. Black Beauty, recorded live at the Fillmore West in 1970 is another one that I give thumbs down to. Everyone has their favorite Miles Davis period and the extremely extreme 1973 to 1975 period with this very specific group of sidemen represents mine.

The only way to fully appreciate this show is to crank it up so loud that your neighbors hate your guts…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
The (almost) unknown art of Miles Davis
09:32 am


Miles Davis

Although his art would adorn one of his record releases from time to time, Miles Davis didn’t begin to draw and paint in earnest until he was in his mid-fifties, during the early 1980s and a period of musical inactivity. Miles being Miles, he didn’t merely dabble, but made creating art as much a part of his life as making music in his final decade. He was said to have worked obsessively each day on art when he wasn’t touring and he studied regularly with New York painter Jo Gelbard.

His style was a sharp, bold and masculine mixture of Kandinsky, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Picasso and African tribal art. I also find his work puts me in mind of the output of painter Phil Frost.

Davis’ paintings weren’t exhibited much during his lifetime, but since his death in 1991, his estate has mounted several traveling gallery and museum shows. Quincy Jones is known to own a number of Miles’ canvases.  In 2013, Miles Davis: The Collected Artwork was published.


“I’ve been painting and sketching all my life. Also, for my tailor I used to draw my suits, ‘cause he couldn’t speak English.”



“It’s like therapy for me, and keeps my mind occupied with something positive when I’m not playing music.”




More after the jump…

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Miles Davis and John Lennon were shit at basketball
12:32 pm

Pop Culture

John Lennon
Miles Davis

Miles smiles. The Lennons look on.

John Lennon and Miles Davis shooting a game of H-O-R-S-E and both failing miserably. Lennon is particularly bad, missing the backboard, even, but any commenters blaming his lack of game on Yoko will be banned from DM for life!

A crappy looking version of this has made the Internet rounds for a while, but it was so blurry that it was too hard to watch and ultimately uninteresting considering what’s actually there under the layers of VHS video murk. Here’s a superior version where you can actually see what’s happening.

This was apparently shot by Jonas Mekas at a party at Allen Klein’s house in the Bronx in June 1971. Ringo Starr, Allen Ginsberg, Phil Spector, Phil Ochs and Andy Warhol were also said to have been in attendance. The gorgeous woman with Davis is actress Sherry “Peaches” Brewer, who was in Shaft! and later married Seagram’s heir Edgar Bronfman, Jr.


Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd: Musing on Miles Davis

In which our guest editors Steven Drozd and Wayne Coyne of Electric Würms talk about the many unexpected ways in which the great Miles Davis has influenced their own music.

“When you hit a wrong note, it’s the next note that makes it good or bad.”—Miles Davis

Electric Wurms’ Musik, Die Schwer Zu Twerk EP is comes out on CD, vinyl and iTunes via Warner Bros. Records on August 19th. Later today we’ll premiere the Miles Davis-influenced track “Transform!!!”  from the new release.

“Man, sometimes it takes you a long time to sound like yourself.”—Miles Davis


Posted by Electric Würms | Leave a comment
Watch Miles Davis improvise the soundtrack to Louis Malle’s ‘Elevator To The Gallows’
07:50 am


Miles Davis
Jeanne Moreau

This is like watching Picasso paint: Behold as Miles Davis watches Louis Malle’s French film noir, Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (“Elevator to the Gallows”) and improvises his moody soundtrack score.

Ascenseur pour l’échafaud was the celebrated director Louis Malle’s feature film debut and starred Jeanne Moreau and Maurice Ronet as lovers planning a murder. The two day recording session was held at Le Poste Parisien Studio in Paris on December 4th and 5th, 1957 and featured French session musicians René Urtreger, Pierre Michelot and Barney Wilen along with American drummer Kenny Clarke. After getting some basic cues and the key from Davis, the soundtrack was totally improvised while the musicians watched the movie on a screen.  The soundtrack seems to be a well-kept secret in the Miles Davis discography which is odd considering that the modal experimentations laid down for Malle’s film clearly led to what came soon afterwards in a similar vein, Milestones and his all time classic Kind of Blue album.

Miles Davis and Jeanne Moreau, Paris, 1957
It could be argued that Malle’s cinematic style and the unique pacing and character of this particular film—which Miles obviously had to conform to in order score it properly—had a noticeable influence on his music. Jazz critic Phil Johnson described the Ascenseur pour l’échafaud soundtrack as having “the loneliest trumpet sound you will ever hear.”

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Animated sheet music for Miles Davis’ ‘So What’
02:33 pm


Miles Davis

Mesmerizing animated sheet music for Miles Davis’ “So What” by Dan Cohen on YouTube.

If I had seen something like this around when I was younger, it would have made piano lessons and learning to read music oh so much easier…

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
‘Miles Davis bores us’: Miles gets knighted in France, 1991
09:50 am


Miles Davis
Legion of Honor

On July 16, 1991, just two short months before his death, iconic/iconoclastic jazz trumpet legend Miles Davis was honored with knighthood in France’s Legion of Honor, one of the highest cultural honors bestowed by that nation. From a New York Times wire service article:

Jack Land, French culture minister, described Davis as “the Picasso of jazz.”

“With Miles Davis, you are in constant musical adventure,” Lang said. “He has been able to cross all the eras while staying eternally avant-garde.”

Davis, 65, has recently given several concerts in France, which have not been well received. The headline on an article in Libération, a left-of-center national daily, read: “Miles Davis Bores Us.”


It’s tempting to write that kind of dismissal off as French radicals being, well, French (Libération was founded by Jean-Paul Sartre, so it can hardly get any more radical or any more French in this particular instance) but by that time, Davis’ output was basically slick pop like Tutu, and his close-but-no-cigar attempt to catch up to acid jazz on the posthumously-released Doo-Bop. Trombonist and Village Voice jazz writer Mike Zwerin, who forever cemented his untouchable credibility by playing on Davis’ Birth of the Cool, wrote in an article in the International Herald Tribune the following day:

This summer he blanketed Europe under kliegs, playing not only a bass-heavy backbeat but also his hits of yesteryear (“Boplicity,” “Sketches of Spain”) and leading an all-star assortment of ex-employees (Jackie McLean, Herbie Hancock). For at least a decade he has refused to look back, and I cannot help but wonder if this unexpected flurry of eclectic activity at age 65 is some sort of last roundup.

His current working sextet has been playing pretty much the same set and solos night after night, including Michael Jackson’s tired “Human Nature,” which has become his “Hello Dolly.” The band has lacked creative energy since freethinkers like Al Foster and John Scofield left in the ‘80s. No longer leading the way in the ‘90s, he is getting by on his (considerable) charisma, which is holding up better than his boredom-detector. When the French minister of culture, Jack Lang, made Miles Dewey Davis a knight of the Legion of Honor on Tuesday, it seemed somehow like final punctuation.

The article’s complete text is here. It’s excellent, very personal, and given how short a time Davis had to live, it serves accidentally as a fine eulogy.

Enjoy this brilliant footage of Davis in 1970, with Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, and Jack DeJohnette, among others, at the Tanglewood Festival, performing “Bitches Brew.”

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
‘Never-before-seen’ 1972 Miles Davis acetate from Columbia Recording Studios available on eBay
09:34 am


Miles Davis

Miles Davis
A strange and marvelous item popped up on eBay recently—as of Wednesday, June 11, the auction in question, posted by reputable eBay user carolinasoul, has four days and change to go. As of this writing, the price is at $315, for which you will receive “one jaw-droppingly special piece, a likely one-of-a-kind Miles Davis acetate.” According to the handwritten label, the material was recorded on December 28, 1972.

The two sides—you can’t even say “side A” and “side B” in a situation like this—are 14:40 and 5:40 in length. According to carolinasoul, “We’ve identified the 14:40 side as a take of the track that would eventually become ‘Billy Preston’ on Get Up With It.” Davis’ 1974 album was the trumpeter’s last studio album before his “retirement” in the mid-1970s.

The material on the 5:40 side has yet to be identified.
Miles Davis
Here are the snippets of material carolinasoul posted as a sample:
Excerpt #1 of the 14:40 side:

Excerpt #2 of the 14:40 side:

Excerpt #3 of the 14:40 side:

Excerpt #4 of the 14:40 side:

Excerpt #1 of the 5:40 side:

Excerpt #2 of the 5:40 side:

Miles Davis
This is one of those auctions where it’s hard to believe that “No questions or answers have been posted about this item.”
Miles Davis, “Billy Preston”:


Thanks to Lawrence Daniel Caswell!

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
‘Bitches Brew’: Miles runs the voodoo down
01:52 pm


Miles Davis
Teo Macero

Scroll down for a chance to win a Bitches Brew: 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition or The Beatles in Mono box set from our sponsor, POPMarket

Back in the heyday of Demonoid, some magnificent person, or persons, unleashed an ISO file that had been made from a quadraphonic reel to reel tape of Bitches Brew, the groundbreaking Miles Davis jazz-rock fusion album of 1970.

Quad was a four channel surround sound format the record labels tried out in the 1970s that was ultimately abandoned. For several years you could buy quadraphonic albums, 8-track tapes and reel to reel tapes (the ultimate “Rolls-Royce” audiophile format of the era) that decoded to four speakers. It was similar enough to today’s 5.1 home theatre systems except that today’s 5.1 music is mixed with an assumption of a front facing listener, whereas with quad it was four speakers and you were more or less in the middle of it. No front or back orientation. It was as if you were standing in the room when it was recorded. Not in the booth, with the band. Popular quad titles included Black Sabbath’s Paranoid (Imagine the sound effects of “Iron Man” swirling around you) and The Best of The Doors which included a live version of “Who Do You Love?” not released in another format and a mix of “Hello I Love You” a 360 degree flanging sound effect. Gimmicky, but very cool. Quad was marketed as “music for people with four ears.”

But back to Bitches Brew. Every serious music fan would have to have at least some familiarity with this album. It’s justifiably included in every single “top 500” of all time lists and most “top 100” lists as well. It is in the top ten best-selling jazz album of all time, too. I’m not going to “review” an album that’s been a well-established cornerstone of 20th century music, but I will say that hearing the performances on Bitches Brew in surround sound is an incredible revelation, almost like hearing it for the first time.

Here’s why: There is a hell of a lot going on at the same time in Bitches Brew. There were two electric keyboard players. Joe Zawinul was placed in the left channel of the stereo mix and Chick Corea in the right. (They’re joined b the great Larry Young on a third electric piano in “Pharoah’s Dance”!) There were two drummers, 19-year-old Lenny White’s kit is heard in the left channel and Jack DeJohnette is on the right. You had both Don Alias and Juma Santos (credited as “Jim Riley”) on congas and other percussion. Dave Holland played floor bass while Harvey Brooks played electric bass.

And then you still had Miles’ trumpet, Wayne Shorter’s sax, Bennie Maupin’s bass clarinet and John McLaughlin on guitar! This is a very “crowded” thing for two speakers to accurately reproduce, but the quad mix opens all of this up into a considerably wider sonic vista and gives the listener a very, very good spatial sense of who was standing where when the recordings were made and even how big the studio was. It’s probably as close as you can get to being in a room with Miles Davis playing his trumpet, like an audio hologram.

The album was recorded live on eight tracks over the course of three sessions (August 19-21, 1969) in New York and then extensively, even radically, manipulated in post production by producer and longtime Davis collaborator Teo Macero. Ray Moore (mixing and editing engineer) quoted by Paul Tingen, author of the fascinating book Miles Beyond: Electric Explorations of Miles Davis, 1967-1991 gives some insight into the recording:

Like In A Silent Way, Bitches Brew was recorded live on 8-track tape, which meant you had a lot of spill. Engineer Stan Tonkel complained to me that Miles wanted John McLaughlin right next to him, which meant there was a lot of trumpet on the guitar track. You had the good and the bad together on all the tracks, and a lot of information that you didn’t really want, which meant that we had to work hard on the mixing. Teo decided where the edits would be, and I executed them for him. Some of the edits were done on the original 8-track, others on the 2-track mix. The edits could be for musical, or for technical reasons, for example to correct levels. We also added effects to the mix, such as the repeat echo on Miles’s trumpet [which can be heard at the beginning of “Bitches Brew” and at 8:41 in “Pharaoh’s Dance”]. When I was working with Teo in the early 1990s on a recording of a performance by Miles in Newport in July 1969, I was surprised to hear that Miles was actually playing an effect like that. So he and Teo must have been talking about this effect before the recording of Bitches Brew.

The sessions included Davis compositions that had been developed live by the band, “Pharaoh’s Dance,” composed by Joe Zawinul and the Wayne Shorter ballad “Sanctuary.” Macero then worked his magic utilizing tape loops, delay, reverb chambers and echo effects. Macero’s contributions to Bitches Brew are well-documented. He would lift a few inspired bars from one thing and graft it on to another section, or repeat something in order to give the improvisations a structure that listeners would recognize as “songs.” It was an unprecedented way to work in a studio at that time.

Why Sony has never put the quad Bitches Brew out on a legitimate release baffles me, it’s not like they don’t do a new Bitches Brew release every few years. Maybe they don’t even realize it’s in their vaults? Who knows? Sony did do jazz fans and historians a favor when they put out a fascinating box set of the sessions that followed the August 1969 Bitches Brew recording with the somewhat confusingly titled The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions. It’s not the raw material recorded before Macero worked his magic on the tapes, as you might expect but rather the best of the material recorded with (basically) these same musicians in the months afterwards. Come the following year Miles would dump the multiple keyboard line-up and go with a more guitar-heavy jazz rock sound. There’s also the Bitches Brew: 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition that came out in 2010 that features the 1988 remastered version of the album (which was always considered notoriously “murky” sounding), a vinyl replica of the original 2-record set gatefold sleeve by Mati Klarwein and a DVD of a stellar live set of the Miles Davis Quintet filmed in Copenhagen, in November 1969, just weeks after Bitches Brew was laid down.

In the video below, Teo Macero reveals his trade secrets of working on Bitches Brew, how he supported Miles Davis creatively and does the single best Miles impression you’ll ever hear:


Smoking hot live version of “Spanish Key” performed at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970

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Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
In a Silent Way: Hear Miles Davis’ voice before he lost it in rare 1953 radio interview
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Miles Davis

In October 1955, Miles Davis had an operation on his larynx, and was given strict instructions by the surgeon not to even use his voice for ten days afterwards. According to legend, though, he got into an argument, raised it, and so begat the instantly recognizable rasp that he would be stuck with for the rest of his days.

It has always impressed me as quite the irony that Davis’ sobbing, pellucid trumpet tone and massacred speaking voice could emerge from the selfsame lips. Which is partly what makes the following so riveting. Kicking off at 3:36 (following a short 60 Minutes appearance from 1989, presumably included for the lurid contrast) here is a very rare recording of a 1953 Radio KXLW interview with Miles, who sounds a little hoarse, pretty out of his tree (a little horse?), characteristically diffident—but not a bit like a Dalek

Posted by Thomas McGrath | Leave a comment
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