This week I review two new releases by Sony Legacy featuring two iconic performers.
Miles Davis -'Miles Live at the Fillmore, the Bootleg Series Volume 3'
This is the third installment released by Sony/Legacy featuring the jazz/rock trumpeter in one of his most productive - and tumultuous -periods. The ever-changing Miles showed a rare and astonishing ability to adapt not only to the changing times but also virtually inventing genres.
Unlike the first two bootleg installments, this four-CD box set, released Tuesday, does feature material that's been released before as well as tons of material that was edited and ended up on various Miles albums released by Columbia in the 1970s.
The original two-vinyl album "Miles at the Fillmore" was first released in 1970 and featured Miles being introduced to a new audience of young hipsters digging everyone from Neil Young to the Grateful Dead at Bill Graham's Fillmore East in New York City and Fillmore West in San Francisco. By this time Miles was entrenched and totally dedicated to the rock-jazz fusion of his studio release "Bitches Brew," as well as turning his back on the jazz club scene and shooting for a new audience.
None of this would have really mattered if the music wasn't any good, but the fact is Miles was playing some of the most blistering trumpet during the Fillmore years in his entire career. Turning from the introspective brooding style he became famous for in the 1950s, Miles was, by this time, a "power" player, confident in his extroverted style influenced by the grooves James Brown, Sly Stone and the guitar gymnastics of Jimi Hendrix. The fact is, this was Miles playing what soon would be called jazz-rock fusion, but at that time, the music didn't have a name. In fact, Miles' fusion excursions to this day sound like no one else at the time.
Miles is egged on by his younger, daring bandmates on "Live at the Fillmore," who were jazz virtuosos but equally at home listening and playing modern pop music. Some of the music on "Live at the Fillmore" straddles genres ranging from "free" jazz to straight up funk and rock. Much of it sounds like music from an alien world. Never again, even in their own releases, would keyboardists Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett, bassist Dave Holland, drummer Jack DeJohnette, percussionist Airto Moreira or saxophonist Steve Grossman be as adventurous as they were when playing with Miles.
Columbia tried to market the album to a younger audience with mixed results, as the dense, swirling and nearly atonal music was over most of the young crowd's heads. But Miles knew what he was doing, and this searing jazz/rock document is a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a man who just couldn't stand still for long. To hear completely what was recorded at the Fillmore is a wonderful treat for fans of Miles "electric" material. I give this release five stars.
Eric Carmen - "The Essential Eric Carmen"
This two-disc retrospective of the Cleveland-based songwriter also was released Tuesday, and features both his seminal work with the power pop band the Raspberries to his solo career.
With the Raspberries, Carmen had a real gift for crafting wonderful cotton candy that sounded great on AM radio while also establishing a template for future bands such as the Cars and even the Ramones. "Go All the Way," "I Wanna be With You" and "Tonight" were tempting slices of ear candy that stood out in an era of great pop songwriters.
Later Carmen would go on his own and prove he still had the goods, although his style had changed somewhat with his solo monster hit "All By Myself." Carmen would continue to create wonderful nuggets of four-minute wonders that left a lasting impression on future generations of popsters. "The Essential Eric Carmen, much of it compiled with the help of the artist, is a blast and highly recommended for fans of 1970s and '80s pop.