Thursday, December 24, 2015

Miles Davis - 1970 [1987] "Bitches Brew"

Bitches Brew is a studio double album by jazz musician Miles Davis, released on March 30, 1970 on Columbia Records. The album continued his experimentation with electric instruments previously featured on his critically acclaimed In a Silent Way album. With the use of these instruments, such as the electric piano and guitar, Davis rejected traditional jazz rhythms in favor of a looser, rock-influenced improvisational style.
Bitches Brew was Davis's first gold record; it sold more than half a million copies. Upon release, it received a mixed response, due to the album's unconventional style and experimental sound. Later, Bitches Brew gained recognition as one of jazz's greatest albums and a progenitor of the jazz rock genre, as well as a major influence on rock and funk musicians. The album won a Grammy Award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album in 1971. In 1998, Columbia Records released The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions, a four-disc box set that included the original album as well as the studio sessions through February 1970.

Recording sessions took place at Columbia's 30th Street Studio over the course of three days in August 1969. Davis called the musicians to the recording studio on very short notice. A few pieces on Bitches Brew were rehearsed before the recording sessions, but at other times the musicians had little or no idea what they were to record. Once in the recording studio, the players were typically given only a few instructions: a tempo count, a few chords or a hint of melody, and suggestions as to mood or tone. Davis liked to work this way; he thought it forced musicians to pay close attention to one another, to their own performances, or to Davis's cues, which could change at any moment. On the quieter moments of "Bitches Brew", for example, Davis's voice is audible, giving instructions to the musicians: snapping his fingers to indicate tempo, or, in his distinctive whisper, saying, "Keep it tight" or telling individuals when to solo.
Davis composed most of the music on the album. The two important exceptions were the complex "Pharaoh's Dance" (composed by Joe Zawinul) and the ballad "Sanctuary" (composed by Wayne Shorter). The latter had been recorded as a fairly straightforward ballad early in 1968, but was given a radically different interpretation on Bitches Brew. It begins with Davis and Chick Corea improvising on the standard "I Fall in Love Too Easily" before Davis plays the "Sanctuary" theme. Then, not unlike Davis's recording of Shorter's "Nefertiti" two years earlier, the horns repeat the melody over and over while the rhythm section builds up the intensity. The issued "Sanctuary" is actually two consecutive takes of the piece.
Despite his reputation as a "cool", melodic improviser, much of Davis's playing on this album is aggressive and explosive, often playing fast runs and venturing into the upper register of the trumpet. His closing solo on "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down" is particularly noteworthy in this regard. Davis did not perform on the short piece "John McLaughlin"

Thought by many to be among the most revolutionary albums in jazz history, Miles Davis' Bitches Brew solidified the genre known as jazz-rock fusion. The original double LP included only six cuts and featured up to 12 musicians at any given time, some of whom were already established while others would become high-profile players later, Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, Airto, John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, Don Alias, Bennie Maupin, Larry Young, and Lenny White among them. Originally thought to be a series of long jams locked into grooves around keyboard, bass, or guitar vamps, Bitches Brew is actually a recording that producer Teo Macero assembled from various jams and takes by razor blade, splice to splice, section to section. "Pharaoh's Dance" opens the set with its slippery trumpet lines, McLaughlin's snaky guitar figures skirting the edge of the rhythm section and Don Alias' conga slipping through the middle. Corea and Zawinul's keyboards create a haunted, riffing modal groove, echoed and accented by the basses of Harvey Brooks and Holland. The title cut was originally composed as a five-part suite, though only three were used. Here the keyboards punch through the mix and big chords ring up distorted harmonics for Davis to solo rhythmically over, outside the mode. McLaughlin's comping creates a vamp, and the bass and drums carry the rest. It's a small taste of the deep voodoo funk to appear on Davis' later records. Side three opens with McLaughlin and Davis trading fours and eights over a lockstep hypnotic vamp on "Spanish Key." Zawinul's lyric sensibility provides a near chorus for Corea to flit around in; the congas and drummers juxtapose themselves against the basslines. It nearly segues into the brief "John McLaughlin," featuring an organ playing modes below arpeggiated blues guitar runs. The end of Bitches Brew, signified by the stellar "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down," reflects the influence of Jimi Hendrix with its chunky, slipped chords and Davis playing a ghostly melody through the funkiness of the rhythm section. It seemingly dances, becoming increasingly more chaotic until it nearly disintegrates before shimmering into a loose foggy nadir. The disc closes with "Sanctuary," completely redone here as a moody electric ballad that was reworked for this band while keeping enough of its integrity to be recognizable. Bitches Brew is so forward-thinking that it retains its freshness and mystery in the 21st century. [Some reissues add "Feio," recorded in early 1970 with much of the same band.]

The revolution was recorded: in 1969 Bitches Brew sent a shiver through a country already quaking. It was a recording whose very sound, production methods, album-cover art, and two-LP length all signaled that jazz could never be the same. Over three days anger, confusion, and exhilaration had reigned in the studio, and the sonic themes, scraps, grooves, and sheer will and emotion that resulted were percolated and edited into an astonishingly organic work. This Miles Davis wasn't merely presenting a simple hybrid like jazz-rock, but a new way of thinking about improvisation and the studio. And with this two-CD reissue (actually, this set is a reissue of the original set plus one track, perfect for the fan who's not so overwhelmed as to need the four-CD Complete Bitches Brew box), the murk of the original recording is lifted. The instruments newly defined and brightened, the dark energy of the original comes through as if it were all fresh. Joe Zawinul and Bennie Maupin's roles in the mix have been especially clarified. With a bonus track of "Feio"--a Wayne Shorter composition recorded five months later that serves both as a warm-down for Bitches Brew and a promise of Weather Report to come--this is crucial listening.

The sound of this album is very hard to describe. The instruments include trumpet (of course), up to three electric pianos (one in the left channel, one in the right, and one in the center), two drummers (one in the left channel and one in the right), upright bass, up to two electric bass player, electric guitar, soprano saxophone, congas, shakers, and bass clarinet. The music is very experimental. The sound is very layered, so much so that there is never a dull movement in any of the songs, there is always a pulse, moving the song forward. The opening song "Pharaoh's Dance" to be experienced fully needs to be listened to with headphones so you can hear the different instruments in each channel. The two drummers and three electric pianos drive the rhythm of the song while Miles Davis' trumpet soars overhead with th other instruments providing a sonic collage. This layering continues in other songs on the album. To say that speaker placement is key in these songs would be an understatement. The production quality is very good for having been recorded 40 years ago. The thing is even though the album was recorded 40 years ago it still sounds ahead of it's time. If you listen to this without any distractions it will take you for a ride.

Often regarded as one of Miles Davis' best albums only surpassed by "Kind of Blue." To compare these two albums is hard considering the huge difference in sound between the two, where "Kind of Blue" has a very traditional classic jazz sound, "Bitches Brew" is an experimental jazz roller coaster propelled by layered instrumentation and studio manipulation. "Bitches Brew" marked a radical change for Davis ushering in elements of rock and avant-garde into his Jazz sound, appropriately this album is often credited with inventing the Jazz-Rock or Jazz Fusion genres, that would continue to be popularized in the early '70s by artists such as Chicago, Steely Dan, Frank Zappa and Santana. To me the most impressive songs are first two tracks "Pharaoh's Dance" and "Bitches Brew." But I really like all of the songs on this album because they are distinct yet fit together as an album well. Personally I don't have any complaints about this album. The only complaint I could see anyone having with this album is the length of the tracks. With only one song below the 10 minute mark, "John McLaughlin," the tracks can drag on to non experienced of instrumental music or jazz. For rock music fans looking to get into Jazz, I highly recommend this album. Progressive rock fans will also appreciate this album. If it were stolen I would definitely have it replaced, not only for the music, but the beautiful album art which reminds me of a Dali painting. 

Miles' music continues to grow in its beauty, subtlety and sheer magnificence. Bitches' Brew is a further extension of the basic idea he investigated in his two previous albums, Filles De Kilimanjaro and In A Silent Way. In a larger sense, however, the record is yet another step in the unceasing process of evolution Miles has undergone since the Forties. The man never stops to rest on his accomplishments. Driven forward by a creative elan unequaled in the history of American music, he incorporates each successive triumph into the next leap forward.
The wonderful thing about Miles' progress is that he encourages others to grow with him. Within the context of his sound there is more than enough room for both his musicians and his listeners to pursue their own special visions. Looking back on the history of Miles' ensemble, we find the likes of John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Tony Williams, Ron Carter, and Wayne Shorter. He always seems to select the best young jazzmen in the country and then gives them the freedom to develop their own unique modes of playing. Miles is known to be a stern disciplinarian, but never a tyrant. When a man has performed with the group long enough to gain a firm footing, he leaves as a recognized giant on his instrument.
The present Miles Davis organization is certainly no exception to this tradition. There is more pure talent here than in any group of any kind currently performing. Chick Corea's piano is so full of technical and conceptual innovations that one is caught between a feeling of wonderment and the gnawing question, "I wonder how he does all those things?" It was about a year ago that a Downbeat reviewer went totally ga-ga trying to understand Chick's playing (he gave it "no stars" and complained about how far out it was), so rather than risk the record reviewer's funny farm I'll just ask you to listen to it.
Dave Holland's bass and Jack DeJonette's drums lay down the amorphous rhythmic patterns for Miles' electrified sound. To put it briefly, these chaps have discovered a new way to cook, a way that seems just as natural and just as swinging as anything jazz has ever known. The soloists on the album — Wayne Shorter on soprano sax, Bennie Maupin on bass clarinet and John McLaughlin on electric guitar — are fully accustomed to this new groove and take one solid solo after another.
The freedom which Miles makes available to his musicians is also there for the listener. If you haven't discovered it yet, all I can say is that Bitches' Brew is a marvelous place to start. This music is so rich in its form and substance that it permits and even encourages soaring flights of imagination by anyone who listens. If you want, you can experience it directly as a vast tapestry of sounds which envelop your whole being. You'll discover why fully one third of the audience at Miles' recent Fillmore West appearances left the hall in stunned silence, too deeply moved to want to stay for the other groups on the bill. As a personal matter, I also enjoy Miles' music as a soft background context for when I want to read or think deeply. In its current form, Miles' music bubbles and boils like some gigantic cauldron. As the musical ideas rise to the surface, the listener also finds his thoughts rising from the depths with a new clarity and precision. Miles is an invaluable companion for those long journeys you take into your imagination.
But don't let my cerebral bent influence your listening. Whatever your temperament, Bitches' Brew will reward in direct proportion to the depth of your own involvement.
 
Tracklist

Disc 1
1 Pharaoh's Dance - 20:00
2 Bitches Brew - 26:59

Disc 2
1 Spanish Key - 17:29
2 John McLaughlin - 4:26
3 Miles Runs The Voodoo Down - 14:04
4 Sanctuary - 10:52

Personnel:

- Miles Davis / trumpet
- Wayne Shorter / soprano saxophone
- Bennie Maupin / bass clarinet
- Chick Corea / electric piano
- John McLaughlin / guitar
- Dave Holland / bass
- Harvey Brooks / electric bass
- Lenny White / drum set
- Jack DeJohnette / drum set
- Don Alias / congas, drum set
- Juma Santos (credited as "Jim Riley") / shaker, congas
- Larry Young / electric piano
- Joe Zawinul / electric piano
- Billy Cobham / drum set
- Airto Moreira / percussion 

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    1. good decision to replace them. Cheers

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