Miles runs the voodoo down in Europe.
It is difficult not to shower effusive praise on the music contained in this new set. If for no other reason, it comes from a crucial period in the career of Miles Davis that is not well documented. This group began to coalesce during the 1968/69 recordings of FILLES DE KILIMANJARO and IN A SILENT WAY. But the quintet showcased here-Wayne Shorter, tenor and soprano, Chick Corea, electric piano, England’s Dave Holland, acoustic bass, and Jack DeJohnette, drums, never made a studio recording. LIVE IN EUROPE 1969 includes Davis’ working band with this personnel, and it’s first legitimate release on cd. Ralph J. Gleason, cofounder of the Monterey Jazz Festival and a founding editor of ROLLING STONE magazine, quoted French composer Edgard Varese in his liner notes for FILLES DE KILIMANJARO-‘ An artist is never ahead of his time but most people are far behind theirs.’
How astute of Mr. Gleason, and how apropos for this music.
These concerts were recorded and preserved thanks to various state-owned radio and television stations throughout Europe. We as listeners should be grateful and are the beneficiaries of their foresight. There are antecedents to Davis’ music here. Austria’s Joe Zawinul was a member of Cannonball Adderley’s quintet from 1961 until 1970. Zawinul wrote Cannon’s enduring 1966 hit, ‘ Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, ’ utilizing a Wurlitzer electric piano on the band’s recording. Zawinul was later introduced to inventor Harold Rhodes of the Fender Rhodes electric piano, and Rhodes sometimes traveled with Zawinul on tour. But it was Davis who first exploited the sound quality of an electronic keyboard to full textural effect in a jazz context. The crackling orchestral colors that Corea creates under Davis are a thing of dissonant beauty.
The recordings took place at three locations: CD 1 and 2 at Festival Mondial du Jazz d’Antibes, La Pinede, Juan-les-Pins, France on 7/25-26/69, CD 3 at ‘ The Newport Festival in Europe, ’ Folkets Hus, Stockholm, Sweden on 11/5/1969 , and DVD at Berliner Jazztage in the Berliner Philharmonie, Berlin, Germany on 11/7/1969. Nowhere else in Davis’ discography is his repertoire as equidistant as at Antibes. Here he combines the 40’s ‘ Round Midnight,’ the 50’s ‘ Milestones ’ and ‘ All Blues, ’ the 60’s ‘ Footprints ’ and ‘ Nefertiti, ’ with new Zawinul and Shorter compositions,‘ It’s About That Time, ’ and ‘ Sanctuary. ’ The sound quality is quite good. The Stockholm concert is unique, as the electric piano malfunctions just after the performance begins. This doesn’t deter Davis and his rhythm section, who play magnificently while an acoustic piano and microphones are apparently moved into position. We then hear the only documented performance of Corea playing acoustically with Davis. The recording is superb, capturing all the ambient sound and room dynamics inherent within that concert space. This has been true of nearly everything heard from Sweden, dating back to Davis’ March 22, 1960 Stockholm concert with John Coltrane. The audio/visual quality of the Berlin concert DVD is also exceptional. This writer found it particularly startling, having previously endorsed JAZZ SHOTS-MILES DAVIS QUINTET THE 1969 BERLIN CONCERT DVD in a previous article for THINK. It is a bootleg release obtained from a vastly inferior source tape or broadcast. But many consumers have unfortunately been the victim of bootleg releases from Spain with atrocious video and sound. Let our experience be a word of warning to all fellow music lovers.
So is there anything to criticize about this set? Well, yes, there is. The Antibes performances on 7/25-26 were videotaped in glorious black and white for television broadcast. Large portions of both concerts can be seen on YouTube. Why were they released as an audio cd? Is this an attempt to simply earn more money with a future DVD release? The 11/5 Stockholm concert was actually two sets, the second set list being: DIRECTIONS, BITCHES BREW, THIS, IT’S ABOUT THAT TIME, NO BLUES, THE THEME. Both sets are included in a bootleg release titled MILES DAVIS LEGENDARY COLLECTION SERIES SWEDISH DEVIL. Why was the performance of THIS extracted from the second set, and attached at the conclusion of CD 3? Not releasing the entire second set is especially perplexing as producers Michael Cuscuna and Richard Seidel were involved with this project. Both men are preeminent in the jazz field.
There are other Davis concerts from ‘ The Newport Festival in Europe ’ 1969 tour that have yet to be released. They include televised broadcasts on 10/27 in Rome, 11/2 in London, and 11/3 in Paris, all of which can be viewed on YouTube. There is also a radio broadcast from Rotterdam on 11/9 with excellent sound. Mr. Cuscuna, please take note: Send me overseas. I will be the Detective Columbo of Jazz and retrieve these tapes. Ha!
2013 is the centennial of Igor Stravinsky’s ballet THE RITE OF SPRING. The cacophonic premiere at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris on May 29, 1913 elicited shouting from the audience, fistfights in the aisles, culminating in a riot. The fury, anguish, and joy of life heard from that stage by the Parisian audience was new. The same can be said of the directions in music by Miles Davis contained in this set. It is especially welcome in our present era of cultural stasis. Those who have ears to hear will listen.
Tony Bellucci can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org