MILES DAVIS-BITCHES BREW 40TH ANNIVERSARY COLLECTORS EDITION.

MILES DAVIS-BITCHES BREW 40TH ANNIVERSARY COLLECTORS EDITION.

Miles Davis’ recording career began in 1951, when he released his debut album The New Sounds. Soon, Miles Davis was establishing a reputation as a prolific, and innovative musician. He released further forty-three albums between 1951 and 1969. This included classics like 1957s Round About Midnight and 1959s Kind Of Blue. While both of these albums would become classic albums, neither sold in huge quantities. Certainly not enough to result in a gold or platinum disc. That was all about change when Miles Davis released his forty-fifth album, Bitches Brew; which has just been reissued as a four disc 40th Anniversary Collectors Edition by Sony Music.

Bitches Brew was the second of Miles Davis’ electric albums. This latest period in Miles’ career began with In a Silent Way. It was released in July 1969, and completed the shift that began on Filles de Kilimanjaro. 

For Miles Davis, In a Silent Way marked a change in his fortunes. When it was released on 30th July 1969,  In a Silent Way reached number 134 in the US Billboard 200. This became Miles first album to chart since Seven Steps to Heaven in 1963. In A Silent Way also reached number three in the US Jazz charts. This meant it was Miles’ most successful album. It seemed Miles’ new sound had introduced a new generation to Miles Davis. So, it’s no surprise that Miles decided to return to the studio straight away.

Miles booked three days at Columbia Studio B, New York. The sessions for what became Bitches Brew began on August 19th 1969. Over the next three days, Miles’ extended band would record six songs that became one of Miles’ most ambitious and innovative albums, Bitches Brew.

Between 19th and 21st August 1969, a huge cast of what can only be described as the great and good of jazz, made their way Columbia Studio B. This included a rhythm section of bassist Dave Holland, Harvey Brooks on electric bass guitarist John McLaughlin, drummers Lenny White and Jack DeJohnette. Joe Zawinul and Chick Corea  played electric piano, Don Alias congas and Juma Santos played shaker and congas. Wayne Shorter added soprano saxophone, Bennie Maupin bass clarinet and Miles Davis trumpet. The session on the 19th August set the tone for the next three days.

Three songs were recorded on the 19th August by producer Teo Macero, Bitches Brew, John McLaughlin and Sanctuary. Miles’ band was different from most bands of that time. He used two drum kits and two electric pianos. Lenny White’s drum kit was situated on the right, and Jack DeJohnette’s on the left. Similarly, Chick Corea electric piano sat on the right, while 

Joe Zawinul was situated on the left. There were also two bases used. Dave Holland played standup bass and Harvey Brooks electric bass. Some of the musicians had never encountered this setup. Neither had engineer Frank Laico. Nobody it seemed, had encountered Miles’ way of working on Bitches Brew. 

Miles had brought the band together without much notice. Looking back, it’s as if he wanted them to arrive without any preconceived ideas. He needed them to work with them. Very little of the material had been rehearsed. That’s how Miles planned it. Everything was off-the-cut. Briefly, he would give them some hints about tempo, chord structure, melody, mood or tone. Then the red light came on. As Miles stood watching, he would study each of the musicians, encouraging and cajoling, giving cues when to change tempo or chord. Often, the only cue a musician had, was when Miles clicked his fingers. With Miles guiding his all-star band, gradually a very different style of music emerged.

The three tracks recorded on the 19th August, Bitches Brew, John McLaughlin and Sanctuary hinted at the direction Bitches Brew was heading. Miles was turning his back on traditional jazz rhythms. Instead, he embraced a much looser rock-tinged, improvisational style. This was what Miles had been trying to cajole out of his band. As Miles played the tapes back once the session was over, he knew he was on the right road.

Miles had coaxed and cajoled the basis for three tracks. Bitches Brew would eventually become a twenty-seven minute epic. John McLaughlin would be trimmed to just over four minutes. Sanctuary, which was penned by Joe Zawinul, would close Bitches Brew. It would eventually clock in at just under eleven minutes. However, there was still half an album to record, plus a lot of editing to do.

As the 20th August 1969 dawned, the same musicians made their way to Columbia Studio B. The only change was Stan Tonkel engineered the rest of the sessions. Everything else stayed the same.

If the previous day had been a shock to their system, now they had some idea of what Miles and producer Teo Macero was trying to achieve. Those that thought about it, realised that Bitches Brew potentially, was a truly innovative album in the making. Especially, those in the rhythm section.

For those in the rhythm section, they must have realised the enormity of rhythmic innovations. The use of two bassists, two drummers and two electric pianos was groundbreaking. Especially, as they all played together. This was what a generation of rock groups had been doing. Miles’ admitted to having been influenced and inspired by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Their influence was playing a part in the reinvention of Miles Davis.

As part of the reinvention of Miles Davis, he decided that his rhythm section be allowed off the leash. They enjoyed took centre-stage, enjoying the opportunity to fire off lengthy and improvised solos. For musicians of the calibre of John McLaughlin, Dave Holland and Chick Corea, this was music to their ears.

Whereas the previous day, Miles’ band had recorded three tracks, they only recorded the one track on the 20th August, Miles Runs The Voodoo Down. It’s an equally ambitious track, that eventually, was edited down to fourteen minutes. However, that day in August, when the red light went on, Miles coaxed, cajoled and encouraged a performance out of his band. He wasn’t interested in a good performance. No, What he was looking for was an outstanding and groundbreaking performance. His band were capable of this. It was Miles’ job to coax it out of the band. 

Unsurprisingly, Miles managed to do so. He had been a bandleader long enough. Using a mixture of praise and constructive criticism, somehow, Miles’ band raised their game. Just like the day before, the rhythm section were responsible for a truly innovative performances. Similarly, Wayne Shorter’s soprano saxophone, Bernie Maupin’s bass clarinet and Miles’ trumpet played leading roles in another epic track. It would later be edited down to fourteen minutes. That was still to come. There were two more tracks to record.

The two final tracks that would make up Bitches Brew, were Spanish Key and Joe Zawinul’s Pharaoh’s Dance. They were recorded on 21st August 1969. While the same band reconvened, Miles decided to add a third pianist. He knew the very man, Larry Young.

Bringing in a new face so let on in the Bitches Brew session made sense. Larry Young would have no preconceived ideas about what to play. He would play with an unbridled freedom. That’s what Miles and producer Teo Macero wanted from Larry, whose piano would sit in the centre of the arrangement. This resulted in yet another layer of music, as Miles and Ted continued to push musical boundaries. 

Over the course of the 21st August, Miles encouraged, coaxed and persuaded two final performances out his band. They responded to Miles’ encouragement, unleashing two sterling performances. As engineers Frank Laico and producer Teo Macero looked on, little did they know that they were in the process of making history.

With the six songs that became Bitches Brew recorded, the band left Columbia Studio B, New York. None of them realised that they had just played their part in an album that would transform jazz music. However, there was a lot of work to do before then.

Much of this entailed editing. Miles had encouraged the band to lay down a series of performances. Now he was left to pick and choose what made its way onto the final tracks. Surrounded by piles of reel-to-reel tapes, Miles and Ted worked their way through the various reels. What followed was like piecing together a musical jigsaw. Sometimes, numerous edits featured in the one track. On Bitches Brew, there were fifteen edits, including the same loop being repeated on three occasions.

Then on Pharaoh’s Dance, the number rose to nineteen. Never before had editing been used so extensively. Bitches Brew was seen as a landmark use of studio technology. This wasn’t the only reason though.

In the studio, all producers had a variety of effects they can use. Like most musicians, Miles Davis was well aware of this. So, he encouraged Teo Macero to do so. Miles wanted to transform the studio into another musical instrument. This wasn’t new. The musique concrète composers of the fifties and sixties had used this extensively. Now was Miles time to deploy tape delays, reverb and echo. They would play their part in what would be the most ambitious and innovative album of Miles Davis’ career. However, before then, Miles returned to Columbia Studio B, New York, on January 28, 1970.

Many of the same musicians that featured on the other tracks on Bitches Brew returned. This included a rhythm section of bassist Dave Holland, Harvey Brooks on electric bass, guitarist John McLaughlin, drummers Lenny White and Jack DeJohnette. Joe Zawinul and Chick Corea  played electric piano and Airto Moreira percussion and cuíca. Wayne Shorter added soprano saxophone, Bennie Maupin bass clarinet and Miles Davis trumpet. They would record Felio, which Wayne Shorter had written.

Over the course of January 28, 1970, Miles, producer Teo Macero and engineer Stan Tonkel recorded Felio. Gradually, the song began to take shape. Eventually, by the close of play, Miles had another song in the can. Would it make its way onto Bitches Brew?

The answer was no. Despite its quality, Felio didn’t make it onto Bitches Brew. It was an ambitious and groundbreaking double album that lasted ninety-four minutes and eleven seconds. Miles and Ted had poured their heart and soul into an album which they believed, could, change the face of jazz music. 

There was a stumbling block though. Critics weren’t won over by Bitches Brew. Reviews were mixed. Rock critics seemed to “get” Bitches Brew. Most were excited by this melting pot of musical genres. They could understand the marriage of avant-garde, experimental, musique concrète, funk, jazz, psychedelia and rock. It seemed to harness the best of various disparate genres. However, not everyone agreed.

Jazz critics especially, wrote disparaging reviews of Bitches Brew. Some went as far as to say this wasn’t jazz music. The problem was, many critics fed on diet of mainstream jazz, just didn’t understand this gushing vortex of groundbreaking, genre-melting music. An expanded rhythm section featuring multiple drummers, bassists and pianists wasn’t something they had encountered before. This was something new, imaginative, influential and innovative, fusion. It caught the attention of a several generations of music lovers.

Unlike some music critics, record buyers tuned in and were turned on to the music on Bitches Brew. It was released in April 1970, and before long, became Miles Davis’ biggest selling album. Bitches Brew reached number thirty-five in the US Billboard 200 and number one on the US Jazz charts. This resulted in Miles’ first gold album. Over the Atlantic, Bitches Brew was certified silver.  On both sides of the Atlantic, Bitches Brew had given Miles his biggest selling album. That was fitting, as it was his forty-fifth album. Eventually though, Bitches Brew sold over two million copies in America, and was certified double platinum. By then, people understood Bitches Brew.

Just like so much groundbreaking music, many people didn’t understand Bitches Brew. Critics, musicians and record buyers were puzzled. Why had Miles plugged in? What was with the expanded rhythm section and the myriad of effects? They found it hard to comprehend where Miles was coming from. Soon, it all became clear; at least to those who cared to listen.

The Godfather of cool and modal jazz was at the vanguard of a new musical movement, fusion. Where Miles Davis lead, others followed. Soon, it would become one of the biggest musical movements of the seventies. Miles Davis would, eventually, be crowned its founding father. Recognition came a year later.

In February 1971, Miles Davis released The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions. This four album set featured the Bitches Brew Sessions in their entirety. In some ways, this further explained where Miles Davis was coming from musically. The four discs explained the musical journey that became Bitches Brew. Suddenly, many who hadn’t understood Bitches Brew were enlightened. Already enlightened however, were the Grammy Awards’ judges.

From 1961, there had a Grammy Award for the Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album. One of the nominees in 1971, was Miles Davis’ Magnus Opus Bitches Brew. Looking back, it seemed inevitable Miles’ would win a Grammy Award for Bitches Brew. However, it was far from a fait accompli. 

On its release, Bitches Brew had divided opinion. While Bitches Brew won the hearts and minds of rock critics, jazz critics weren’t convinced. To them it was strange brew of disparate musical genres and influences; one they either didn’t understand, or want to understand. However, the Grammy Award judges were made of sterner stuff. They understood innovation when they heard it, and were more than happy to reward it. 

At the glittering Grammy Awards’ ceremony in April 1971, Miles Davis was vindicated. His decision to plug in, and change direction musically on Bitches Brew, was richly rewarded. He won a Grammy Award for the Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album. By then, fusion as it became known, was growing in popularity. The man who gave birth to fusion was receiving his reward. This has been the case over the last forty-five years.

Ever since the release of Bitches Brew, it has been recognised as a landmark album. This musical tour de force is now perceived as one of the most important albums in the history of jazz. Bitches Brew was a game-changer. Suddenly, jazz’s rhythmic rules were rewritten. Anything was possible. Rhythm sections grew in size. Suddenly, two drummers, bassists or pianists were acceptable.  The use of effects were embraced, transforming the recording studio into an extra instrument. Similarly, editing was used as part of the creative process. Here, Miles drew inspiration from the musique concrète composers of the fifties and sixties. This was just another piece in the musical jigsaw that was Bitches Brew. It rejuvenated interest in jazz.

By 1970, many critics and record buyers regarded jazz as yesterday’s music. It was the music their parents and grandparents listened to. A new generation of record buyers turned their back on jazz. That was until Miles Davis released Bitches Brew. 

Suddenly, jazz was back in fashion. It had been reimagined and reinvented by Miles Davis on Bitches Brew. This was a game-changer. Fusion as the genre became known, proved to be happy a marriage between jazz and rock. Before long, fusion was the most popular genre of jazz. A generation of jazz and rock musicians collaborated, resulting in jazz that was commercially successful and critically acclaimed. It’s also music that’s stood the test of time.

That’s why forty-five years after the release of Bitches Brew, Sony Music have released Bitches Brew 40th Anniversary Collectors Edition. This four disc set was originally released in 2010. However, it made a welcome return on 18th May 2015. The first two discs feature Bitches Brew plus six bonus tracks. On disc three, there’s a previously unissued performance at Tanglewood, in August 1970. It features Miles accompanied by Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, Airto Moreira and Gary Bartz. Then the final disc is a DVD of a previously unissued performance in Copenhagen. It took place in November 1969, and features Wayne Shorter, Corea, Holland and DeJohnette accompanying Miles Davis. Given that the Bitches Brew 40th Anniversary Collectors Edition box set can be found for £11, $16 or €14, then this is the definitive edition of Bitches Brew.

A copy of Bitches Brew 40th Anniversary Collectors Edition should make its way into every self-respecting record collection. It’s not just one of Miles Davis’ best albums, but one of his most ambitious and groundbreaking albums. Yet again, Miles Davis set out to reinvent himself and jazz music. Miles Davis succeeded in doing so, and in the process, created a pioneering album that transformed, and rejuvenated jazz, Bitches Brew. 

MILES DAVIS-BITCHES BREW 40TH ANNIVERSARY COLLECTORS EDITION.

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1 Comment

  1. Reblogged this on pundit from another planet.

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