This second volume of Sony Legacy’s 3CD/1DVD sets of live Miles Davis material documents a band that never made it into the recording studio: the quintet of Davis, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, keyboardist Chick Corea, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette. (Yes, these guys can all be heard on Bitches Brew, but they were surrounded by other players—the quintet was solely a road band.) The four shows here document a band in transition, not only from month to month but even from night to night, as the inclusion of two back-to-back shows at the Juan-les-Pins festival in Antibes, France on July 25 and 26 show quite clearly.

Only three songs, all newish compositions, are performed on both nights: “Directions,” which would be Davis’s opening number for several years, “Sanctuary” and “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down.” All three were tunes he was working out on the road, but had yet to record. The rest of the set on the first night includes numbers the 1965-68 quintet made famous (“Footprints”), but goes as far back as the early 1950s (“‘Round Midnight”), too, and concludes with a fast run through “The Theme,” which he’d been closing sets with for virtually his entire career as a leader. The set from the following night focuses much more on newer music, bringing in “Masqualero,” “Nefertiti,” and “Spanish Key,” but adding two more old favorites, “I Fall In Love Too Easily” and “No Blues.”

What becomes clear when listening to these raucous, electric (in the literal and metaphoric senses) performances is that the band wasn’t just transitioning from an acoustic jazz sound and mindset to an electric, rock-informed sound; it was also splitting into two different bands, sort of. Though Miles Davis was the leader, and the star attraction, he was in danger of being overshadowed by his sidemen. The quickest way to understand what was going on is to listen to Jack DeJohnette. When he’s backing Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea and Dave Holland (and even more so when Shorter steps away, too, leaving the band to function as an electric piano trio), he plays like Mitch Mitchell of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, battering the kit into submission. When Miles steps to the microphone, DeJohnette frequently reverts to conventional swing—an aggressive version of swing, to be sure, but it’s definitely “jazzier” than what he’s playing when the boss walks away. Corea and Shorter are also playing much more “out” stuff than Davis; the electric piano jabs and spits sparks here.

The third disc of the set features a very different side of the group. Recorded in November in Stockholm, Sweden, the set list is all new or newish material (“Bitches Brew,” “Paraphernalia,” “Nefertiti,” “Masqualero”), but done in an entirely different way. During the first number, “Bitches Brew,” Corea’s electric piano malfunctions; it can be heard emitting crackles and bursts of static. By the time the second piece, “Paraphernalia,” begins, he’s on an acoustic piano, and stays there through the next three pieces, the latter of which, “Masqualero,” fades out early. A performance of the Corea composition “This,” from the second set on the same night and featuring a functioning electric piano, is added to the disc. But the acoustic songs are the most interesting, for sure. Corea was obviously very comfortable reverting to acoustic piano, without tempering the aggression he’d shown throughout his tenure with the group; indeed, “Paraphernalia” is practically free jazz the way this group plays it, much harder and more explosively than the original recording on Miles In The Sky (which featured the Herbie Hancock/Ron Carter/Tony Williams rhythm section, plus guitarist George Benson).

The DVD features a fourth performance, from Berlin, which is beautifully filmed and in color (unlike the two 1967 performances included on the DVD portion of Vol. 1). Shot two days after Stockholm, the set list is reminiscent of the first night in Antibes: Over the course of 45 minutes, the band plays “Directions,” “Bitches Brew,” “It’s About That Time,” “I Fall In Love Too Easily,” “Sanctuary” and “The Theme.” The music feels less explosive than any of the festival performances, as though the presence of the cameras and the general TV-show atmosphere caused the musicians to become more subdued than they might otherwise be. Still, it’s hardly a straight-ahead jazz show; there’s plenty of wildness to go around. This was probably Miles Davis’s farthest-out band, and each of the four concerts archived on this set shows them going for it 100 percent at all times.

A significant portion of the July 25, 1969 performance can be seen below.

Phil Freeman

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