Think of it: Miles Davis on trumpet; Wayne Shorter on saxophone; Chick Corea on keyboards; Dave Holland on bass; Jack DeJohnette on drums. In one band.
This was the line-up for the Miles Davis Quintet circa 1969-1970 – a cast of players that began to take shape on Filles De Kilimanjaro and In A Silent Way and were together as part of the larger ensemble that that created Bitches Brew … but were never captured in the studio by themselves.
Thanks to the efforts of Columbia Legacy and their Miles Davis Bootleg Series, we now have a time capsule of what is known as Davis’ “Third Great Quintet”. Live In Europe 1969: The Bootleg Series Volume 2 finds the band on stage without a net rather than in the safer confines of the studio – and it’s the perfect setting to appreciate this line-up in all its power and glory.
The first two discs of the 3-CD/1-DVD set are back-to-back performances from France’s Festival Mondial du Jazz d’Antibes in July of ’69. Both sets begin with the fierce chaos of “Directions” – as much a flex of DeJohnette’s muscles as anything. On 7/25/69 (Disc 1) Davis soothes the mood and nudges things toward the cool funk of “Miles Runs The Voodoo Down”; Disc 2 finds he and Corea bumping fenders as they push the jam into “Spanish Key”. (It’s worth noting that both “Voodoo” and “Spanish” were unreleased at the time of these recordings – not destined to see the light of day until the groundbreaking Bitches Brew dropped in April of the following year.)
The Antibes performances are packed with great moments (recorded for French radio at the time) with the band pushing the music without a break, pulling off segues that today’s jamsters would be proud of. “Milestones” is the ultimate tease: a combination of instantly-recognizable signature riff (given a stop-and-go treatment on 7/25) that quickly segues into nearly 14 minutes of godjam. This one belongs to Holland – listen to his double bass’ reactions and suggestions to his bandmates’ statements.
“I Fall In Love Too Easily” is nearly three minutes of Davis making gentle love to his horn with Corea throwing rose petals underneath it all; at the heart of “No Blues” is some classic John DeJohnette; “Masqualero” is a roar in the darkest of jungles; and Thelonious Monk’s “‘Round Midnight” is a joyous be-bop romp by all hands. Corea’s electric piano on “It’s About That Time” on 7/25 is particularly aggressive and edgy, matched only by his attack on a repeat of “Miles Runs The Voodoo Down” on the following night. “Sanctuary” > “The Theme” close out Discs 1 and 2 with a wink.
The third disc from the box fast-forwards to November ‘69 with Davis and the Quintet on stage at “The Newport Jazz Festival In Europe” in Stockholm, Sweden. The Bitches Brew album was still a few months away, but the band hits the stage with the title track in full force … except for an obvious melt-down in Corea’s electric piano.
In the opening seconds, it’s just Holland’s bass laying down some solemn and stark notes; at the 15-second mark, there’s an audible “click” followed by a crackle as Corea and DeJohnette reply to Holland. As the song gels and takes shape, it becomes obvious that it’s Corea’s piano that’s frying the bacon, and it’s not some avant-garde touch – this is a live recording, and this is the kind of shit that happens, folks.
Holland dumps the throttle about two-and-a-half minutes in and Miles takes the first solo. You hear a few more death gasps from Corea’s keys – all but lost in DeJohnette’s fierce cymbal work – and then he’s gone. The remainder of the band works their way through “Bitches Brew”: Shorter’s break is especially powerful, propelled over the top by DeJohnette; Holland sweeps in behind them with a brimming ladle of Cream of Bass soup to soothe the moment. It would be interesting to know what transpired on stage in the meantime: frantic road crew twisting wires and swapping cables? Soldering iron Olympics?
No matter – as Davis leads the tune into the home stretch, Corea is back on acoustic piano and an equipment tragedy turns into a happy accident. Now there’s no question: with no gizmos between the keys and the ear, you’re able to hear the power and dynamics of Corea’s fingers. He confidently pilots the glide out of “Brew” into “Paraphernalia” and never looks back. A bonus track from a later set – a walloping version of Corea’s “This” – finds the electric piano up and running again, but for my money it’s the drama of the earlier meltdown > victory that makes Disc 3 a must-listen.
As always, as soon as one puts an ear to one of these releases, the mind can’t help but wander to “What do you suppose is next …?” but do yourself a favor: just trust that the Miles Davis Bootleg Series is in good hands and enjoy what’s here now.
This isn’t just history; this is brilliance.
Brian Robbins twists wires and such over at www.brian-robbins.com