If thereís one area in the history of jazz that drives a wedge between fans, itís a critical analysis of Miles Davisí so-called "electric period," which, arguably raised itís head with the 1969-70 recordings of the massive "Bitches Brew" project, coupled with his later merger into funk and rock rhythms. Itís an incredibly furtive period of the great trumpeterís growth, and hopefully these releases will help remove some of the negatively about it.
Milesí own "Bitches Brew Sessions" is the fourth in Sonyís massive and impressive boxed set releases, and comes, as have all of those releases, in an incredible array of discography, photographs, recollections and essays. As Carlos Santana points out in his interesting introductory liner notes, this was a period of incredible searching by Miles, as he and producer Teo Macero started a journey into the incorporation of rock rhythms and attitude into his previously straight ahead jazz compositions. This collection does him proud, with over 140 pages of writings, information and listings about the music, as well as four perfect sounding discs, with a number of unreleased tracks. Truly, as all of the Miles releases, thus far, a revelation and inspiration worthy of the artist himself.
The period after the "Brew" days creates even more argument among jazz (and Miles) fans, and has never been so well chronicled as with "Yo Miles," an absolutely stunning two disc set from, roughly, the days of "Jack Johnson," "Agartha," "Dark Magus," and other comparatively overlooked and/or dismissed Miles pieces from the early to mid Seventies.
What is so incredible about the playing on these records, led by trumpeter Smith and guitarist Kaiser, is that the tunes sound so much like Milesí music of that period. But, they are not merely imitative; they reinterpret and resound the originals, which is an extremely heady and difficult thing for musicians to do. There is extreme genius and thought all over these recordings, and, as an added bonus, perhaps some of the finest writing and liner notes about this period of Milesí musical life, courtesy of Enrico Merlin, who goes far beyond the obvious in analyzing Milesí music at this time. Vitally, he provides us with a musical timeline of how Miles himself incorporated much of this music into his live performances and how each of these tracks grew. A powerfully strong piece of work that would make Miles very proud, indeed.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of "Endless Miles," which recalls a 1998 show in New York City that helped launch the Miles Davis official web site. While the song selection is interesting, spanning the frame from "So What" to "Tutu," the playing is less than inspired. By itself, this collection might be worth it, but after checking out the "Brew" box and the "Yo" work, it just doesnít stand up.
Bitches Brew *****
Yo Miles! *****
Endless Miles **1/2
- Mark T. Gould