MILES DAVIS-BITCHES BREW.

Miles Davis-Bitches Brew.

Label: Sony Music.

Although Miles Davis’ recording career began in 1951, when he released his debut album The New Sounds, he soon had established 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 at the time of their release. 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  Sony Music as a two CD set.

Bitches Brew was the third of Miles Davis’ “electric albums,”as he continued to embrace the fusion sound that was growing in popularity, and as was seen by many as jazz’s saviour. This latest period in Miles Davis’ career began with In A Silent Way. It was released in July 1969, and completed the shift that began on Filles De Kilimanjaro in September 1968. 

In a Silent Way

For Miles Davis, In a Silent Way marked a stylistic change and indeed, a change his fortunes when the album was released on ‘30th’ July 1969.  The forty-two year old had recorded the album at CBS 30th Street Studio, on the on February the ‘18th’ 1969 with a band that featured some of the future greats of fusion. This included twenty-seven year old guitarist, John McLaughlin who was a relative newcomer. However, he would win the trust and respect of his Miles Davis and the rest of the band with his playing on In A Silent Way, where they  incorporated elements of the classical sonata form plus elements of jazz, psychedelia and rock. With the session over, Miles Davis left Teo Macero to edit the recordings.

Teo Macero’s part in the success of In A Silent Way can’t be underestimated, as he began editing the album. When it came to the two lengthy tracks, Shhh and In A Silent Way, Teo Macero’s idea was to edit them so that they consisted of three different parts which can be regarded as exposition, development and recapitulation. By the time Teo Macero had finished editing  Shhh, the first and last six minutes of the track featured the exact same piece of music. However, this would play its part in the sound and success of album that some critics called ‘space music’ upon its release.

In A Silent Way was an album that divided the opinion of critics. Some critics were shocked at Miles Davis’ decision to incorporate electric instruments on the album, and took this as a betrayal and Miles Davis was seen by some critics as heretic. While some jazz critics sent Miles Davis to Coventry, where he was forced to sit on jazz’s equivalent of the naughty step, other critics welcomed the addition and incorporation of electric albums on In A Silent Way which they called a groundbreaking album from musical chameleon Miles Davis. However, with critic’s opinion split on In A Silent Way, record buyers had the final say on the album.

When In A Silent Way was released, it reached number 134 in the US Billboard 200, and became Miles Davis’ first album to chart since Seven Steps To Heaven in 1963. In A Silent Way also reached number three in the US Jazz charts, which   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.

Bitches Brew.

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

Between the ‘19th’ and ‘21st’ August 1969, a huge cast of musicians, that can only be described as the great and good of jazz, made their way Columbia Studio B. This included a rhythm section of drummers Lenny White and Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland on standup bass,  Harvey Brooks on electric bass and guitarist John McLaughlin. They were joined by Joe Zawinul and Chick Corea on electric piano. Adding a percussive backdrop were conga players Don Alias congas and Juma Santos, who also played shakers. Soprano saxophonist Wayne Shorter joined soprano saxophone, Bennie Maupin on bass clarinet and Miles Davis trumpet. With the lineup in place and in situ, the session on the ‘19th’ of August set the tone for the next three days.

 ‘19th’ of August.

Three songs were recorded on the ‘19th’ of August by producer Teo Macero, Bitches Brew, John McLaughlin and Sanctuary. This was quite a feat as Miles Davis’ band was very different to 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 before, nor had engineer Frank Laico. Nobody it seemed, had encountered Miles Davis’ way of working on Bitches Brew, but were willing to try it. 

What’s quite remarkable given what happened over the three-day session, is that Miles Davis 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 him and trust him as he pioneered what was an innovative way to record what would be a groundbreaking album.

Very little of the material on Bitches Brew had been rehearsed by the band. That was  how Miles Davis had planned it. He wanted everything the band played to be off-the-cut. Briefly, he would give them some hints and guidance about tempo, chord structure, melody, mood or tone, then when the red light came on, Miles Davis stood watching and studying each of the musicians If needed, he would encourage and cajole a performance out some of the musicians who were struggling with this new way of working, and other times would give cues when to change tempo or chord. Often, the only cue a musician had, was when Miles Davis clicked his fingers. With Miles Davis guiding his all-star band, gradually a very different style of music emerged.

The three tracks that were recorded on the ‘19th’ of August, Bitches Brew, John McLaughlin and Sanctuary hinted at the direction Bitches Brew was heading. Miles Davis was turning his back on traditional jazz rhythms and instead, had decided to fully embraced the much looser rock-tinged, improvisational style. This was what Miles Davis had been trying to cajole out of his band. As Miles Davis sat down at the end of the session with producer Teo Macero and played the tapes back, he knew he was on the right road.

Miles Davis had coaxed and cajoled the basis for three tracks out of the band he had hastily put together.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.

 ‘20th’ of August 1969.

As the ‘20th’ of 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, the band now they had some idea of what Miles Davis and producer Teo Macero were trying to achieve. The band embraced the concept, and having thought about it, realised that they had the opportunity to be part of musical history, as 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 as one. This was what some rock groups had been doing, and this had influenced Miles Davis. So had the Jimi Hendrix Experience who influenced and inspired Miles Davis to reinvent his music, and head  in a new direction.

As part of the reinvention of Miles Davis, he decided that his rhythm section should be allowed off the leash. They enjoyed the opportunity to take centre-stage, as they unleashed  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 Davis’ 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 Davis again, coaxed, cajoled and encouraged a performance out of his band. He wasn’t interested in a good performance. That wasn’t good enough for a perfectionist like Miles Davis who demanded an outstanding performance befitting a potentially groundbreaking album. His band was capable of this, and as bandleader, it was Miles Davis’ job to coax it out of the band. 

Unsurprisingly, Miles Davis managed to do so. He had been a bandleader long enough, and using a mixture of praise and constructive criticism, somehow,  encouraged the band to raise their game and reach even greater heights.

Just like on the ‘19th’ of August,  the rhythm section was 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.

‘21st’ of August 1969.

The two final tracks that would make up Bitches Brew, were Spanish Key and Joe Zawinul’s Pharaoh’s Dance. They were scheduled to be recorded on  the ‘21st’ August 1969, and when  the same band reconvened, Miles Davis announced that he had 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, as Larry Young would have no preconceived ideas about what to play. He would play with an unbridled freedom. That was what Miles Davis and producer Teo Macero wanted from Larry Young, whose piano would sit in the centre of the arrangement. This resulted in yet another layer of music, as Miles Davis and Ted Macero continued to push musical boundaries to their limits, and sometimes, even beyond. 

Over the course of the 21st August, Miles encouraged, coaxed and persuaded two final performances out his band. They responded to Miles Davis’ encouragement and delivered 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.

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 the editing process, which was Teo Macero’s area of expertise. He had plenty of material to choose from. This came as no surprise, as Miles Davis 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 Davis and Ted Macero worked their way through the various reels. What followed was like piecing together a musical jigsaw. Sometimes, numerous edits featured in the one track, and on Bitches Brew alone, 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, and later, Bitches Brew was seen as a landmark album in terms of utilising the available studio technology to is full potential  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 and encouraged Teo Macero to deploy them effectively and if he wanted, extensively. Essentially, Miles Davis wanted to transform the studio into another musical instrument. This wasn’t a new concept, and was one the musique concrète composers of the fifties and sixties had used extensively. Now Miles Davis was about to follow in their footsteps, as  he and Ted Macero deployed 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.

January ’28th’ 1970.

Many of the same musicians that featured on the other tracks on Bitches Brew returned to Columbia Studio B. This included a rhythm section of drummers Lenny White and Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland on standup bass and,Harvey Brooks on electric bass and guitarist John McLaughlin. They were joined by Joe Zawinul and Chick Corea who both played electric piano. Percussionist Airto Moreira also played cuíca, and was joined by soprano saxophonist Wayne Shorter, bass clarinetist Bennie Maupin and trumpeter Miles Davis. This was the band that would record Wayne Shorter’s composition Felio.

Over the course of January the ‘28th’ 1970, Miles Davis, producer Teo Macero and engineer Stan Tonkel recorded Felio. Gradually, the song began to take shape. Eventually, by the close of play, Miles Davis had another song in the can. However the big question was 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 Davis and Teo Macero 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. Just like In A Silent Way, the reviews were mixed. Rock critics seemed to “get” Bitches Brew, and 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 the most disparaging and damaging reviews of Bitches Brew. Some went as far as to say this wasn’t jazz music. The problem was, many of these critics over the past two decades had been fed on diet of “mainstream jazz,” and 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 that was being referred to as 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 when it was released on March the ‘30th’ 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 Davis’ first ever gold album in America. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, in Britain, audiences had embraced Miles Davis’ groundbreaking opus Bitches Brew, which was certified silver.  

It was fitting that Bitches Brew had given Miles Davis his biggest selling album on both sides of the Atlantic, as it was the forty-fifth album of  the forty-three year old trumpeter’s career.  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 initially and many  critics, musicians and record buyers were puzzled. Why had Miles Davis 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 yet another 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, and understood innovation when they heard it. They were more than happy to reward Miles Davis’ innovative fusion classic Bitches Brew. 

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, and  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 now possible. Rhythm sections grew in size, and 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 Davis 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, and 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-seven years after the release of Bitches Brew, Sony Music have just rereleased Bitches Brew as a two CD set, with second disc also featuring alternate takes, an edit and singles. This is the perfect way to discover or rediscover the delights of  Bitches Brew, which 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, and succeeded in doing so, and in the process, created a pioneering album that transformed, and rejuvenated jazz, Bitches Brew. 

Miles Davis-Bitches Brew.

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1 Comment

  1. Excellent liner notes approach. Saw him do some of this stuff at the Isle of Wight in 1970. Vividly remember the balloons going over, magical stuff.

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