M I L E S B E Y O N D
Amazingly, this month there are two must-have Miles Davis releases with essential electric Miles content. First of all there's Columbia's release of the 4-CD boxed set Miles Davis At Newport 1955-1975,which is Volume 4 in the The Bootleg Series (the first three are covered further down in this news section). Plus there's Live In Tokyo 1975, on the obscure Hi Hat label, showcasing Miles' 73-75 Pete Cosey band 10 days before February 1, the historic day when the epic milestones of Agharta and Pangaea were recorded.
Miles Davis At Newport 1955-1975 covers two decades of Miles playing at the Newport Jazz festival, with selections of sets from 1955, 1958, 1966, 1967, 1969, 1971, 1973 and 1975. While all this music is wonderful and noteworthy, of particular interest to lovers of the electric music of Miles naturally are CDs 3 and 4, which contain the sections from the concerts of 1969-75.
CD 3 opens with 24 minutes of the concert of July 5, 1969, at Newport, Rhode Island, which were previously released in 2011 on the album Bitches Brew Live. This recording is notable for containing the earliest documented version of "Miles Runs The Voodoo Down," and the absence of saxophonist Wayne Shorter. Apparently he was stuck in traffic, leaving Miles, Chick Corea (electric piano), Dave Holland (bass) and Jack DeJohnette (drums), to fend for themselves, very effectively, it must be said. Though Holland still plays acoustic bass, the mood is disctinctly funky and rock-influenced. The concert took place in between the recordings of In A Silent Way in February and Bitches Brew a month later, and the way Miles' music was progressing live clearly was mirrored on the latter album.
One gripe here. Ashley Kahn's liner notes make no mention of Shorter's absence, a peculiar omission, which throws up the question how closely he actually listens to this music. Kahn wrote the wonderful book Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece (2001), and clearly is well-versed in the ins and outs of jazz, but his problems in relating to Miles electric music seep through in places. Kahn's liner notes quote Newport Festival organizer George Wein extensively, which is apt and at times makes for very interesting and engaging reading. But why once again go over that well-trodden and totally discredited narrative of Miles' supposed "sell-out"? One would have imaged that this entire narrative, invented in the 1960s out of prejudice, ignorance, and jealousy, can in 2015 finally be put to rest.
Also, the description of the 1973-75 band only in passing refers to the main inspiration for the band's music, funk, and Wein is uncritically quoted as saying that Miles wasn't taking any more solos by this stage anymore, because "he couldn't play as well and it seemed he was covering himself up with the electronics around him." For whatever reason, Khan does not point out that Miles at times definitely still took long solos during this era (as anyone who has actually listened to Agharta and Pangaea can testify), and that the use of a wah-wah pedal, and the "electronics around him" were first and foremost artistic choices that don't need discrediting as stop-gap solutions, even as it is also true that Miles was physically in an increasingly bad state during these years and that this hampered his playing.
The timeline of the 71, 73, and 75 concert sections is jumbled a bit on CD 3 and 4, for space reasons, with the 1969 concert followed by the 1973 concert, which took place in Berlin (under the banner "Newport Jazz Festival In Europe"). This 49-minute recording is the 2nd offical live release of the early days of the Pete Cosey-band (featuring Reggie Lucas on guitar, Michael Henderson on bass, Al Foster on drums, Mtume on percussion, and in this case Dave Liebman on sax and flute). The first official live release of 1973 was of the July 8 concert in Montreux, which appears on the 20-CD set The Complete Miles Davis At Montreux 1973-1991 (2007). The July 8 concert recording, spread over 2-CD's, is remarkable for its sonic transparancy, which wonderfully suits the almost pastoral playing on the second CD, which is an absolute highlight of this band. The playing on the November 1st concert is more energetic and wilder, with a sound that's far less delicate. Michael Henderson's electric bass is distorted throughout, for example. It's still essential listening for anyone interested in this music, not least because it shows Cosey beginning to find his inimitable solo voice.
The 1973 concert is followed by a tantalisingly brief segment of a concert in New York on July 1, 1975, just two months before Miles retreated from music for five years. The 7-minutes of Mtume is only second officially released track of the Pete Cosey band with Sam Morrison on saxophone (the first being "Minnie," an outtake recorded in May 1975, issued on The Complete On The Corner Sessions. The sound quality of "Mtume" is below par--this probably was a band recording--but still is acceptable, and one wonders, and hopes, that the rest of the music played during that concert is held back for a later 73-75 band live release.
CD 4 contains the first concert of October 22, 1971, in Switzerland (bootlegs of that day usually document the 2nd concert). This band featured Gary Bartz on sax, Keith Jarrett on keyboards, Michael Henderson on bass, Ndugu Chancler on drums, and Don Alias and Mtume on percussion. This concert was recorded professionally for Swiss Radio and TV, and not remixed for this boxed set by Mark Wilder, which makes it sound rather differently, with Jarrett's keyboards on the left channel often overload and a slightly harsh sound in general. This was only Chancler's second concert with Miles, and one wonders how he felt being thrown to the European lions! He holds his own admirably, but otherwise this concert does sound like a band still finding its way.
And then there's Live In Tokyo 1975. This radio broadcast registration has long been doing the rounds as a bootleg, and Hi-Hat claims that it has been remastered, and it indeed does have a fuller, more in-your-face sound, with added low and high end. The sound still is nowhere near as good as that of Agharta and Pangaea, but nonetheless perfectly acceptable. CD 1 mirrors much of the material available on Agharta, while CD-2 contains such rarities as another recording of "Mtume," while the "Untitled" track is in fact a version of "Hip Skip," a track first recorded in the studio on November 6, 1974, and included on the The Complete On The Corner Sessions boxed set. It was only played live four times.
Live in Tokyo 1975 lacks the ferocious brutality of Agharta and also Dark Magus the year before. Largely because of the flatter sound image the sonic and emotional impact is not quite as intense as that of the official live releases. But those of you who love the 74-75 live albums, and don't have this concert already as a bootleg, run and go out and buy this album! There's plenty to enjoy here, and the way the band plays these songs is different enough to warrant getting these alternate versions. For those who already have the bootleg, the sound of this Hi-Hat release definitely is an improvement on the bootleg, but it's not night and day, so it depends how eager you are.
I was shocked to find out that Bob Belden died, on May 20th, of a heart attack at the age of 58. Belden was well-known to Miles affectionadoes as the producer of many of Columbia's Miles Davis boxed sets, often also writing the liner notes, notably The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions (1998), The Complete In A Silent Way Sessions (2001), Live at the Fillmore East, March 7, 1970: It's About That Time (2001), The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions (2003), The Cellar Door Sessions 1970 (2005) and The Complete On The Corner Sessions (2007).
Belden was very active in general as a compilation reissue producer, working on many more compilation albums by Miles of his non-electric period, and also by the likes of Al Dimeola, Herbie Hancock, Weather Report, and many many others. His Miles Davis compilation and reissue work earned Belden three Grammy Awards, for Miles Davis and Gil Evans: The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings (Best Historical Album, Best Album Notes, 1996), Miles Davis Quintet 1965-'68(1998), and The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings (Best Album Notes, 1998).
In addition to the above Belden was a successful musician, composer and arranger, releasing nine albums under his own name during the 90s and 00s, and, more recently, three albums with his band Animation. Belden also was involved in the making of several homage albums, featuring his interpretations of the music of Prince, The Beatles, Sting, and Miles. His two Miles homage albums are Miles From India (2008) and Miles Espanol: New Sketches of Spain (2011).
I only met Belden once, in New York at Sony Music Studios in 1999. He was, let's be straight, not very pleasant, presumably not particularly impressed with the young upstart from Europe who claimed he was writing a book on the electric music of Miles Davis. For this reason there are relatively few quotes from Belden in Miles Beyond. He may also not have enjoyed my connection with Enrico Merlin, complaining that whenever a new boxed set of Miles material was released that Belden had produced, one or two weeks later there'd be a fax or letter from Italy, with Merlin correcting him on several details!
However, over time Belden clearly changed his mind, because he gradually became an important ally to both Enrico and myself. He stayed in touch with me via what must surely add up to thousands of e-mails. He remained gruff on the outside, rarely displaying any social niceties, but instead he regularly sent me links or music, often unissued and/or pre-release Miles tracks, sometimes his own or other music, and the inside info on the goings-on at Columbia and sometimes the Miles Davis Estate he shared often was invaluable. Much of the inside info in this News section came from Belden.
Belden's contribution to music was immense, and his presence will be sorely missed.
«6» This month is the 40th anniversary of Miles Davis' two most epoch-making performances, both on February 1st, 1975, at Osaka Festival Hall, Japan. They were documented on the albums Agharta and Pangaea, which I regard, particularly the former, as the pinneacle of his creative achievements. These two albums therefore form the centre-piece of Miles Beyond. There's a wonderful, extended article on these two releases, and companion album Dark Magus, in The Quietus, written by Angus Batey. Read and enjoy!
«5» Time for what appears to be a yearly update, this time to highlight the impending release of Volume 3 of The Bootleg Series, called MILES AT THE FILLMORE: Miles Davis in 1970. This release is of serious interest to lovers of the electric music of Miles Davis. It allows us to finally hear all the music from four concerts at the Fillmore East in June 1970, sections of which had been released in 1970 in a trunctuated form on a double album called Miles At Fillmore, and later re-released as a double CD. I've received an advance copy of the new 4-CD boxed set, which contains 135 minutes of previously unreleased music. The original Fillmore release always seemed rather flawed, not only because of Teo Macero's brutal edits, but also because the sound was shrill and sharp. All this is rectified on the new boxed set. The music has been remixed and sounds glorious. This is a must-hear and must-buy.
As often, there are a few issues. For some reason the positions in the sound spectrum of Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea are reversed (they should be left and right respectively, but are right and left on the new release), which is rather sloppy. There's a nice, impressionistic essay by Michael Cuscuna, who was at one of the concerts, and the pre-release version also contains an interview with Santana. Reportedly Santana was unhappy with the album's cover, which he said had nothing to do with Miles, and he withdrew his cooperation and his section of the liner notes will be omitted from the release when it sees the light of day on March 25th. These are the rumours I've heard, let's see what the reality is.
On another front, some of you may have noticed that there not just one but two Miles Davis movies in the making. The most widely publicised one is the brainchild of actor Don Cheadle. The working title is Kill The Trumpet Player and it is placed in Miles' "silent period," 1975-79. It is also said to feature Ewan McGregor and Zoe Saldana. The time period is intriguing, since Miles descended into a private hell of pain and drugs abuse during this period. One imagines that any movie about Miles will need to address and portray his greatness as an artist, and 1975-79 was the one period that he wasn't a great artist. The other Miles pic is being made by George Tillman, in collaboration with Miles' eldest son Gregory, and is said be more traditional.
Finally, I received an e-mail from a reader this morning who alerted me to the fact that it appears that there has been a Soviet-style attempt to rewrite history by eliminating all mention of Miles Beyond on Wikipedia. Despite the fact that my book is one of a handful of major Miles biographies and remains the only serious book on the crucial 1970-75 era, every single reference to my book has been removed from all Miles Davis-related Wikipedia pages. There's no mention of it in any of the Bibliographies, not on the main Miles Davis biography page, nor on any of the electric album entries.
Instead, most book references from the 1970-75 era are made to Chambers' biography, who dismissed the era and clearly had no idea, and to John Szwed's book, who by his own admission didn't understand this period at all. I was naive enough to send Szwed a bound galley of my book while he was writing his, and was sad to see that he literally plundered my book, often uncredited. But even if the part of Szwed's book that deals with the music of 1970-75 had been based on original research and genuine insight on his part, that still wouldn't invalidate the crucial place of Miles Beyond as the book that most dramatically deepened our understanding of the electric music of Miles, particularly of the 1970-75 period.
Here's a request to all of you who appreciate my book: please go to Wikipedia and edit it back into its rightful place. You have my permission to quote from the book, up to a few lines, and make sure information that is attributed to Szwed and others but that they obtained from Miles Beyond (there's quite a bit of that), is attributed to my book, which was the original source. The reader has already begun this work, on the Wikipedia Agharta page. Some of his edits still stand, but for example his effort to contribute the correct Agharta song titling to Enrico Merlin's work in Miles Beyond, has already been reverted to John Szwed, who based himself on Enrico's work. It's all a bit surreal and Kafka-esque. Particularly those of you who are aware of Wikipedia house rules and can perhaps also argue your corner on the behind-the-scenes discussions, you are warmly invited to go in there and put Miles Beyond on the map again, where it should be.
As for who is behind this effort to eliminate the book from history, I don't know for sure, of course, but this story suggests a motive...
«25» A little belatedly, news of real news: the release of the Volume 2 in the Bootleg Series, a box set of 3 CDs and 1 DVD of the Miles Davis Quintet playing Live in Europe in 1969. The band consisted of Miles, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette, and has sometimes been called the Lost Quintet, because it never was recorded in the studio. It's also been billed as the Third Great Quintet, which may seem like hyperbole, but the music on this set really is excellent. The concerts, two in Juan-les-Pins in France in July, one in Stockholm in May, while the DVD documents a gig in Berlin in July, see Miles in between the recordings of In A Silent Way (February) and Bitches Brew (August), tentatively moving from the relatively traditional jazz quintet format into something entirely new. Dave Holland still plays acoustic bass, but Corea mans the electric piano for part of the time, and the repertoire is a mixture of material that Miles used to play with the Second Great Quintet (Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams), and some new additions such as "Miles Runs The Voodoo Down," "It's About That Time" and "Bitches Brew." This set is perhaps a little early in Miles's move from jazz to jazz-rock for the rock-minded to jump in, but is essential listening for anyone happy to explore the vast universe that incorporates both jazz and rock. I only just got the set in, so will report in more detail later on. Legacy assures me that the Bootleg Series is ongoing, so in two years we may see Miles in 1970, presumably followed by Miles in 1971, then in 1972, and finally, hopefully, also 1973-75 material. Doing the sums we may have to wait until the next decade for that last release, but perhaps Legacy will surprise us.
«31» Miles Davis has appeared on a postage stamp, there's been the Bitches Brew: 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition boxed set, there's been the release of the 5-CD boxed set, The Warner Years, 1986-1991 , there's been drip-drip news of the Don Cheadle biopic on Miles, that's not going to be a biopic but a gangster pic set in 1979, apparently, and more. None of these things have been able to prompt an update on this News page, despite the occasional guilty pang. The news of Pete Cosey's passing yesterday, however, has really shaken me and is the reason why I'm writing these words at the moment.
Those of you who have read Miles Beyond and regular visitors to this site will know that Cosey's amazing, futuristic playing with Miles during 1973-75, particularly on Agharta and Pangaea, was as much a reason for me writing the book as Miles himself. I was lucky enough to be able to interview Cosey at length in 1999, at a time when he wasn't willing to be interviewed at all (his mother talked him into doing the interview). He provided many great quotes, stories and insights. I also was very happy to see the recognition he enjoyed during the 00s, inspired by the publication of Miles Beyond as well as the release of various boxed sets with Miles' music from the 1960s and 70s, all of which triggered a general reappraisal of that music.
Pete was a session guitarist for Chess Records in Chicago and played with Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Chuck Berry, was a founder member of Earth, Wind & Fire, and later played with Herbie Hancock. But like so many other Miles sidemen, Cosey reached his peak when playing with the master, particularly on Agharta and Pangaea, on which his soloing to this day literally remains out of this world. He devised one of the most original and distinct styles ever heard on the electric guitar, and his adventerous playing and gentle wisdom will be greatly missed
One sad aspect of Cosey's death at 68 is that he will take the secrets of his guitar playing, including his many guitar tunings and effects and his unorthodox general thinking about music, with him into his grave. When I asked him the detailed guitaristic questions another guitarist would ask him he politely declined to answer, saying he aimed to write a book detailing them. But of course, the book never happened. He did lift the veil a little bit, and some of his answers are in Miles Beyond. I aim to dig out and publish the full transcript of my interview with him. Until then, do check out George Cole's excellent interview with Cosey, which you can find here...
I salute you, Pete, for taking the electric guitar into unknown territories that the rest of us could barely dream of, and in doing so blowing the brains of a small group of teenagers with avant-garde music tastes in an obscure provincial town in The Netherlands in the late 70s to such a degree that their lives were separated in a time before and a time after, with one of them going on to write a book about the electric music of Miles Davis... (for more on this, read the Intro page, where you'll also find an audio excerpt of one of Cosey's wildest solos.)
«28» After half a year of computer problems I'm back online. Well, my computer fried itself on April 1 (no joke) and because acquiring a laptop PC with solid music recording capabilities is a serious issue these days, it took until 2 weeks ago for me to get delivery of an up to date brand new machine. In the mean time I worked on my partner's ageing computer, and installing HTML editors and FTP upload software appeared a dangerous, destabilising option best avoided. So I left Miles Beyond alone for a bit, also because I'd gotten rather bored and discouraged by strings of releases that seemed little more than a repackaging of old stuff, either cheaply for the budget minded, or pricey to take as much money as possible from rich and ageing fans (CDs in a trumpet case, anyone?) But now, with new, super-fast hardware and software under my fingers, and awoken out of my e-slumbers by e-mails from some regular visitors to this site, I've had a look around, and it appears a matter of the classic waiting for a bus situation: you wait for ages and there's nothing, and then suddenly three pass by at the same time...
And so, in fully focusing on the topic of Miles and his electric music again, some alarm bell went off in my brain, making me realise that this is a particularly appropriate and poignant day to get back on track, as it's the 20th anniversary of his death. That's something that bears thinking about for a moment. In some ways it now really seems a long time ago that he was still with us. Almost as if he was from another era. On the other hand, Miles would be have been 85 this year (sorry for not reporting on the various goings-on to celebrate that fact), and could still have been a comtemporary. And much of his music, of course, particularly from the seventies, sounds more contemporary than ever.
In this context one set of releases sounds particularly exciting. Called the Bootleg Series, part one has just been issued, containing live material from the Second Great Quintet playing in Europe in late 1967, with both audio and visuals, the latter taken from TV broadcasts. Legacy is sending me the set, and I promise to report on it within a couple of weeks. For now, the AntiMusic site has an excellent overview, which you can read here... . These live recordings, many of which have already been available on bootlegs, showcase the very first steps Miles took in a new, more modern, direction. More exciting still, the next volumes should take us straight into electric territory. I've asked some of the people who are working on the series for more info, and will report when I have it.
In addition, Eagle Rock this month releases a compilation of video footage from Miles' Montreux concerts, 1973-91. This is apparently a taster for the release of a huge boxed set with the full video footage of all Miles' Montreux concerts, the audio of which was already issued on The Complete Miles Davis At Montreux in 2002. This should be a truly fascinating release. More about this soon as well.
And finally, there's another repackaging release, mentioned here purely to justify the three buses joke. Legacy is also releasing a 22-CD boxed-set called The Pserfect Miles Davis Collection. Says Sony: "20 iconic original albums in mini LP replica sleeves, presented in a rigid case lift off lid box with a 56 page booklet and discography. This Miles collection is being released with the more casual Jazz consumer in mind as a first-time boxset purchase of Miles’ work and commemorates the 20th anniversary of his death which falls on the 28th of September." In other words, this is a compressed, cheaper version of the 71-CD boxed set The Complete Columbia Album Collection that was issued in 2009 (see below). More about this later as well. I'm still getting all this software to work, and will breathe a sigh of relief when I've managed to upload this page. So, as they like to say in the jazz world... later...
«12» It appears that Warners Europe has decided to release a heavily trunctuated version of The Last Word, the never released 2001 6-CD boxed set. Instead there's the 2-CD Perfect Way: the Miles Davis Anthology. One would have hoped that this 2-CD would have contained some significant previously unreleased material but sadly, apart from two tracks from the "Rubber Band" sessions, it appears that some of 6-CD set's unreleased material was replaced by tracks from the readily available Miles & Quincy Live at Montreux, recorded a few months before Miles' death in September 1991, material that stylistically doesn't really fit with the rest of what's on this double CD. Including this, instead of more previously unreleased material, seems a missed opportunity, and suggests that permission to release some of the unreleased stuff is still not forthcoming. Or perhaps, here's hoping, Perfect Way is a way of testing the waters for a full release of The Last Word.
«05» Wow, a whole year of no news! There's not been much to relate, apart from one thing: the publication early this year of a hefty book on Miles, called We Want Miles, with text by French writers Franck Bergerot and Vincent Bessières, plus a few others. It was published as part of the Cité de la Musique Miles exhibition in Paris a year ago, which also saw the release of the intially badly packaged but otherwise quite wonderful 71-CD boxed set Complete Columbia Album Collection (now retailing for a cool US$365, more info in entry for Nov 2009 below). The book texts by Bergerot and Bessières are well-written and give a good overview of Miles' career. There are a few short texts by others that are also well-worth reading. The main reason, however, for getting this book are the enormous amount of great pictures, many of which yours truly had never seen before.
In addition, there's the very fancy and pricey (US$122) Bitches Brew: 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition boxed set, plus the even more fancy and pricey (US$652) The Genius of Miles Davis 43-CD boxed set, that contains all the previously released Columbia boxed sets, covering 1955-1974. There have also been rumours of Warners wanting to revive the ill-fated 2001 6-CD boxed set. Frustratingly, reportedly Warners isn't convinced of the set's commercial potential, and has shelved the project again. In addition, the latest news is that work on the feature movie on Miles' life has stalled... and that, for the moment is it. Heck, even the news page on milesdavis.com has only two new entries since October 2009!
It's very little news in a whole year, and one does start to wonder whether Miles legacy is being kept alive actively enough. As one of the towering figures in 20C music, who made music, particularly his electric stuff, that's still relevant and modern today, one would hope that his stature increases, rather than that he's gradually sinking into museum-status semi-obscurity, as so many great jazz musicians have. The new record company releases, impressive but also expensive as they are, are re-re-repackagings and appear to be aimed at a very a select group of diehard and well-off fans, and apart from the exhibition premiered in Paris, which has since travelled to Montreal, there's precious little happening that would reach a wider and younger audience.