Friday, June 14, 2013

94 Bitches Brew (1970) Miles Davis



Tracks

Disc One

1. Pharaoh's Dance 20:06
2. Bitches Brew 27:01

Disc 2:

1. Spanish Key 17:34
2. John McLaughlin 4:22
3. Miles Runs The Voodoo Down 14:04
4. Sanctuary 10:59
5. Feio              11:53

All Miles Davis needed to be great was a trumpet. He didn't need other musicians or percussionists or anyone else around him he just needed his instrument and he could produce wondrous things. He was one of those rare people who was just so musically gifted that great music just poured out of him.

But Miles liked to be challenged. He liked to pushed. It was like he knew he only had a limited amount of time on earth and he wanted to revolutionise jazz as often and as comprehensively as possible. The best way he knew to gain inspiration was to surround himself with talented people who could latch onto his vision and run with it. When I say "surround" I'm usually offering up a figure of speech but in the case of Bitches Brew it was literally true. Davis packed the studio and at times had 12 musicians playing with him which means he'd moved beyond quartets and quintets and into whatever you call a group of 13 people. And as a legacy the sessions left an imprint on the world almost as big as that other guy who hung around with 12 disciples.

I'm not exactly a jazz aficionado. I have a selection of jazz albums that I enjoy and I voluntarily listen to Miles and others from time to time but even someone with only a passing interest like my own recognizes some of the names present. Wayne Shorter on saxophone, Chick Corea on piano, John McLauglin on guitar and Jack DeJohnette are all giants of jazz and household names if you live in the kind of house who really likes jazz. The rest of the less familiar appearances on the roll call are no slouches either and there was more talent gathered together in that one studio than anywhere else on the planet in 1970.

Ironically a lot of the talent in the room wasn't related to what the players played but what they didn't play. It sounds strange to think of not-playing as a skill, I've personally been not-playing jazz for my entire life and nobody has ever complimented me on it ("Hey Dave! Fantastic not-trombone playing! Mad skills!), in fact I've not been playing every instrument at the same time which technically makes me a multi-instrumentalist. The point is that when the room is full it's best if some space is given for the music to breath. In addition to Miles' trumpet, most tracks features a sax and clarinet along with two bass players, two electric pianos, a guitar, two drum kits and an additional two percussionists. If everyone played at the same time the whole thing would be a mess. But the talent in the room knew when to sit back and play a little, when to play a lot and when to play nothing at all. There's a lot going on to be sure but it's never overwhelming, in fact it's outstanding.

Bitches Brew is just magnificent even though nobody really knows what it actually is. There are people out there having long debates about whether this is jazz, jazz-rock, jazz-fusion or something else. They're all raising their voices to put their case and could probably take a lesson from the musicians and learn when it's appropriate to keep quiet. If you can sit outside the debate about where this fits then you'll be able to appreciate how rich and full it is. Bitches Brew isn't such a departure from the jazz that went before it that it's not recognizable but it's definitely steps away from what preceded it. It's got a groove and a rhythm and while it's melodic you won't find yourself humming it in the street. It's not atonal and discordant but there's a reason trumpeters don't busk its tunes outside your local supermarket.

It's crap music to put on at a dinner party and hard to work to but if you give it your time there is so much to reward you in repeated listenings. The drumming and percussion alone is worth hearing for the complexity of the interplay, thats if you can keep your ears from getting distracted by Miles and his trumpet or Mchlauglin and his guitar. Bitches Brew is wonderful played loud on a good system in a darkened room where the music can be enjoyed and experienced in its entirety.

Columbia Records have recently been mining the Miles legacy in a series of boxes sets which collect all available recordings from certain eras which are a joy for the serious collector and also the casual Miles fan who really loves a particular phase of his career. The Bitches Box contains the original album in a remastered form and augments it with similar recordings from around the same time period. Some of them have been released before but others were debut recordings. There's nothing that's as good as the original Bitches but I do really enjoy Guinnevere, which in theory is a cover of a song David Crosby wrote on the first CSN album but is really a launching point for Miles and band to stretch out for 21 joyous minutes.

If you haven't heard Bitches Brew and worry that it's Miles at his least accessible then think again. There's a lot to enjoy without having to steel yourself for something too avante garde. I don't know if it's jazz-rock, jazz fusion or some other genre. I just know I like it.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "The elect few get it? No they don't, they just happen to be deaf, stoned, and easily led. Period"

-It always annoys me when someone assumes that their inability to appreciate someone else's music is because everyone who does is impaired by mind-altering substances.

So is this a Brew you'd happily consume or one you'd rather Bitch about? Let me know below.


1 comment:

  1. I love this album and also the few released around the same time. Genius stuff ,the lot of them

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