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Opinion: New release features Miles Davis

January 31, 2013
By MARK J. MILLER , The Herald-Star

This week I review the newest installment of Columbia/Legacy's Miles Davis bootleg series.

"The Miles Davis Quintet - Live in Europe 1969, the Bootleg Series Vol. 2"

The newest installment of the Miles Davis bootleg series, released earlier this week, features three CDs of Miles live with his band and one DVD recorded at various venues in Europe in 1969.

Most of the recordings derive from taped television or radio appearances, as the quintet of Miles on trumpet; Chick Corea on Fender Rhodes piano; Wayne Shorter on saxophone; Dave Holland on bass; and Jack DeJohnette on drums were never recorded in the studio. One of the best - and seldom heard - quintets of Miles storied career, this brief lineup was the link between the finest acoustic band Miles ever had, featuring Shorter, Herbie Hancock on piano, Tony Williams on drums and Ron Carter on bass, and his ever-changing and large electric bands of the early to mid-1970s.

Well-recorded in concert hall-style venues before adoring audiences in Berlin, Stockholm and Antibis, France, the package documents an astonishing band that was somewhere between the acoustic aspects of Miles early to mid-60s explorations to the forward-thinking, electric excursions to come and documented in "Bitches Brew," the ground-breaking studio album released by Miles in early 1970.

Most of the material over the course of the CDs features amazingly heated versions of tunes that were to become part of "Bitches Brew" as well as some material from Miles recent past with the mid-60s quintet. Sometimes referred to as "the Lost Quintet," the bootleg series show a well-oiled and inspired group who fed off each other and were emphatic to an almost telepathic degree.

Especially fun to hear are Miles spiky post-bop lines, which were played with such a searing intensity they would overmodulate the microphone. That only added to the excitement, as Miles often said he played like a guitar player.

The soft distortion courtesy of the overmodulated microphone adds harmonics to his extroverted playing, making his sound even more brazen and powerful.

Audacity would have to be the key word in the entire group's approach, as Holland, Corea and DeJohnette were not afraid to step way outside the box, taking cues from the free jazz winds blowing through and shaking up jazz in the late 1960s. European audiences, which were usually receptive to innovation, must have been shocked at the extent to which Miles' younger bandmates were willing to stretch.

They didn't just bend the rules - they broke and shattered them, sometimes even more than Miles was willing.

One special insight into how the younger cats would prick even Miles' keen sensibilities with their noisy jazz free-for-alls that a reportedly dazed Miles told Jack DeJohnette that, "You guys are crazy!" after one particularly "outside" exchange.

That's pretty funny, at least to me.

It's a shame this band wasn't ever properly recorded in the studio, but what we are left with is a sizzling snapshot of the short life of one of Miles quintets that burned brightly before members became in-demand stars and left for other musical endeavors.

We also are left with a document of Miles' uncanny brilliance in finding band members that clicked beyond anything anyone else would deem reasonable.

The towering genus of Miles Davis is showcased once again in this superb release. Highly, highly recommended.

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