Wednesday, 01 April 2020 05:43

Bitches Brew's 50th Anniversary on March 30th Featured

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The legendary album Bitches Brew by Miles Davis has its 50th anniversary on March 30th. It is a milestone in the history of jazz, or perhaps rather in the transformation from jazz to rock.

Although the legendary Bitches Brew album was recorded in New York in August 1969, it should take more than six months to release of the album. The release date was March 30, 1970, and one of the reasons for this was that Teo Macero had to invent the wheel two or three times, and do a formidable job of transforming a rather chaotic raw material into a magical result.

When the album was released it generated strong reactions in several directions - from wild excitement and fascination to contempt. "Selling out" was a phrase used about Miles Davis's obvious musical transformation from what had been pure acoustic jazz a couple of years earlier and into something that, for his part, would become fusion for the rest of the 70s… .ehhh…. that is, until he temporarily put his music on the shelf for 5 years from 1975.

What no one could take from him, whether he was a follower or an opponent, was that this was groundbreaking music. In June 2017, I wrote a thorough review of Bitches Brew. And for new readers, we repeat this review here, in honor of the 50th anniversary.

 

Miles Davis - Bitches Brew.

It becomes a little pointless to introduce Miles Davis, the man who few will contest is the definitive no.1 of jazz history. "By far!" some will add, and I'm one of them.

If we still would try for a Miles in a nutshell, it is tempting to recount the story from sometime in the 1980s, when he was invited to a celebrated party, and his table lady - a nice upper class lady - asked with a slightly oblique look how he had ended up in that company (read: let in). Miles Davis replied "I changed Music history four times. And why are you here…? ”

Miles Davis in `69

I'm not going to cover the whole story of Miles Davis, but jump right into the wrestling era of jazz in general and Miles Davis in particular was in the early 60's. In connection with the pop and rock storm, a lot also happened in the border areas between jazz and rock. On the one hand, we had bands like Blood Sweat & Tears and Chicago, which pioneered the fusion of jazz and rock with rock band stance. And, of course, it can be debated whether the latter band's music had very much jazz in it, or whether it was more Rock with a hornsection, as James Pankow of Chicago likes to insist.

The other school was traditional jazz musicians who wanted to record rock elements in a fusion. And here Miles Davis was central, and among the earliest to record in `69. Then we talk about the studio LPs In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, although it was already running in 1968, in the recordings Miles in the Sky and Water Babies. The latter, by the way, is a bit confusing, because although it was recorded in 1968, it was not released until 1976. Miles had been very inspired by both Jimi Hendrix and Sly & The Family Stone, and wanted to create music in the same direction.

Thus, 1969 is the magical year - the year when so much is happening. But for Miles Davis, there are events on two different levels this time. While making the groundbreaking recordings In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, he has a very exciting live band, a band that has subsequently been called The Lost Quintet. This quintet consisted of a combination of his "Second Great Quintet", represented by Wayne Shorter and Tony Williams (after dismissing Ron Carter and Herbie Hancock), and the two newcomers Chick Corea and bassist Dave Holland. And the exciting thing about this quintet was that, unlike Miles' studio staff, they made a more organic transition between the old hard-boop and the new electric jazz. Therefore, there is good reason to dive into live recordings from `69. Here there is a lot of very fascinating music, and my favorite is1969 Miles - Festiva De Juan Pins. The song material is a combination of songs from the new era and old Miles songs, such as a rousing version of the Wayne Shorter composition Footprints and the old Monk standard Round About Midnight, which has been immortalized by Miles Davis countless times. And this version is the best of them all, starting with a fabulous intro, and moving at an astonishing pace after the classic intermesso. And the album is a clear candidate for the best album of all time by Miles Davis (forget all the joke about Kind of Blue…)

Bitches Brew

But Miles Davis thus lived a kind of musical double life In 1969, while his "Lost Quintet" created a sliding transition between bop and fusion, he created a studio revolution. After the album In a Silent Way - which many people love, but isn`t one of my favorites- came a session in the studio summer `69. Founding members were Wayne Shorter on soprano sax, Benny Mauphin on bass clarinet, Chick Corea on electric piano, Joe Zawinul on electric piano, John McLaughlin on electric guitar, dave Holland on double bass and bass, Harvey Brooks on electric bass bass and Jack deJohnette on drums. In addition, Larry Young, Lenny White, Don Alias ​​and Jumma Santos contributed on some tracks.

The impression given in several Miles Davis biographies is that a week of recording left plenty of exciting but chaotic raw material from more or less jam sessions, but a material that was completely unworkable as record material.

And here the magician comes into the picture - the real witch. Teo Macero worked with this material for a very long time, and found new techniques in the form of tape loop that were used extensively on the title track "Bitches Brew". I have stated on a jazz forum about ten years ago that there are three people outside Miles Davis who give Bitches Brew the magic this album has. And that is Chick Corea on electric piano, Benny Mauphin on bass clarinet and not least - Teo Macero behind the levers. The latter was probably even more important to Bitches Brew than Alan Parson was to Dark Side of the Moon. Too bad of course for Wayne Shorter, who had been a fantastic sideman for MD in the past, and created more recent music history later with Weather Report. But at Bitches Brew, he was surprisingly anonymous. And of course I'm a bit uncertain if I'm a little unfair to Joe Zawinul, but he had his great time with Miles on In a Silent Way, which was in a way his album. Benny Mauphin, on the other hand, creates a mysterious backdrop on very large parts of most tunes. And Chick Corea's teasing of this electric piano, an instrument he was initially very skeptical of, is legendary. 

And how tremendous the invaluable job of Teo Macero was, we never really get a glimpse of before the world is given access to the raw material from the Bitches Brew recordings. It could have been a really exciting contribution to a release like "The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions". Instead, Publishers remix Bitches Brew without Teo Macero's participation or approval, and present a lot of  other Music material that is in itself very exciting and good, but which has nothing to do with Bitches Brew. 

Before we spin slices - of course this is a double LP - I thought about mentioning my personal relationship with Bitches Brew. I'm pretty sure I bought the album In Trondheim about the mid 70's, but I had an incredibly long incubation period. At that time, I was very fascinated by both 50-60's Miles Davis, and Big Fun released in 1975. But Bitches Brew took decades to get completely under the skin, despite numerous attempts. And once it happened, sometime around the turn of the century, it happened with a bang. For a while, Bitches Brew was fixed on my bedroom stereo.

Side A

Already in the intro of Pharaoh's Dance , Benny Mauphin is allowed to set the mood, with his small spit in the background with Chick Corea on his Fender Rhodes electric piano. When Miles Davis enters the scene, there is also a change of mood. Bitches Brew goes from small floundering to a tune with a clear direction. In much of the song, there is a kind of dialogue between Miles Davis's urging statements and Maupin's more abrupt statements. But this should not be taken as a derogatory to Benny Maupin's musical phrases - they are magical.

It is otherwise obvious to mention Terje Rypdal's album Vossabrygg in connection with this tune. For Heksebrygg is an obvious re-casting of Bitces Brew - also musically. And in the opening of Vossabrygg, there is such an obvious musical quote from the opening of Pharaos Dance that one can be a little surprised at the choice. Especially since this part of Vossabrygg is not the most successful creation from an otherwise fantastic Norwegian jazz musician.

Back to Pharaos Dance - the end of this song and the LP side is the least fascinating part after the second interlude, and goes into some stanzas that seem unnecessarily assertive ...

Pharaos Dance is one of my candidates for the album's best song. But it lives in fierce competition. 

Side B

Like page A, page B is also dedicated to a single tune. And here we find the title track - Bitches Brew . It starts with an extremely distinctive and magical opening, a kind of dialogue between the bass and an electric piano that practically sparkles. And this sparkle is more electric on the vinyl than on any of the other silver disc variants I own and have heard. Eventually Miles's trumpet comes in, and here it is Teo Macero's grip that gives the magic. For what would have been the opening of Bitches Brew without this echo effect that was not really technologically possible in `69, but would have been a piece of cake today.

And it's definitely Miles who is the boss of the tune Bitches Brew. But nevertheless, Benny Mauphin's bass clarinet is indispensable as a mood creator in the background. And Chick Corea's phrases. John McLaughlin is also present with innovative phrases, and far more masterful than much of what he later performed in early versions of the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

Still, it is the basic theme that creates the utmost magic on this song - a basic theme that is constantly recurring. And unique.

The song Bitches Brew is not very widespread on the many rich live recordings at this time, and in those cases the song does occur, there are usually only short touches. This is almost surpassed only by Pharaos Dance, which I do not remember hearing in a single live recording. 

Page C

Spanish Key is also a magical tune. By the way, I have the feeling that I have a magical overuse of the word magical in this article. What sets Spanish Key apart from the two previous tunes is that they very quickly give foot - a foot that goes unremittingly in the fierce rhythmic performance. Spanish Key obviously refers to the base scale of the song, a base scale that is unmistakably Spanish.

Otherwise tempting to recall a demo night at Musik Magazine in Bergen , where a visitor started playing Spanish Key at a time when I was really about to leave the event. That made me stay an extra half an hour.

John McLaughlin is a relatively short tune as # 2 on side C. And I mean, having read that this was originally not an independent tune, but young McLaughlin's solo feature on an alternate take of another tune. Anyway, it forms a welcome contrast in this album. A little respite from Miles's trumpet. But fortunately not from Maupin's bass clarinet. 

Page D

The last side of the double album starts with Miles Runs the Voodo Down . It differs a bit from the others in being a more straight rock tune, almost like a little warning to Jack Johnson to come in 1970. And actually, Bitches Brew was also released in 1970, half a year after the recording, but it's another story.

The tune is decent, but still perhaps my only non-candidate for the album's best, regardless of mood swings.

The closing tune is Sanctuary . And the interesting thing about this one is that at about this time (transition 69/70) it takes over as Miles Davis's standard closing tune  for concerts. And the theme it takes over is, of course, The Theme , which has been the ruling ending for approx. a decade, or maybe more.

But Sanctuary is definitely more than a closing theme. It is a very fascinating tune, which builds up to a musical crescendo.

Read 538 times Last modified on Wednesday, 01 April 2020 06:44
Karl Erik Sylthe

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