1970 wasn’t just a pivotal year in the Miles Davis electric timeline – it was a universe away from what the quintet was up to just 4 months prior. Three main factors contributed to the drastic change in tone: Dave Holland switched over to electric bass, Chick Corea began running the Fender Rhodes signal through both an Oberheim ring modulator and Echoplex tape delay, and Brazilian percussionist extraordinaire Airto Moreira joined the live lineup. The effect was stunning: a deeper, harder, more complex groove, and a sonic palette that would blow the minds of the headiest psychedelic warrior.
As if those changes weren’t significant enough to mark a clear change in direction, Miles added John McLaughlin on guitar for this February date at the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival. Though the soundboard tape trims “Directions” from the start of the set and the mix is pretty out of whack (“Sanctuary”, “Bitches Brew” and “Masqualero” peak out severely, so watch your headphone volume), the performance is as incredible as you’d expect.
The tape picks up early in “It’s About That Time”, and the In A Silent Way standout is already hitting hard. Though the setlist is similar to those from the late ’69 European tour, the band has moved on. Tunes quickly dissolve into a heap of glorious electric cacophony – the heavily effected Rhodes teetering on the verge of control and leaving almost dub-like contrails of sound in its wake. McLaughlin squeezes percussive stabs into every crack, Holland throbs with remarkable precision thanks to the Fender Bass, and DeJohnette is deep in his element, both holding it all together and getting further out than anyone.
“Bitches Brew” is unmissable here, given yet another reinterpretation since its introduction in mid ’69 thanks to Airto adding some downright bizarre accents to the intro. It’s amazing to think this tune was still unknown to this crowd – the album wouldn’t be released for another couple of months.
Miles is clearly pleased with what he’s conjured up, blowing with strength and confidence, and easily cutting through the maelstrom. And though it may just be the odd mix, the relative subtlety of Shorter’s playing makes him seem out of place in this new (literally) amped up configuration – it’s understandable why he chose to move on from the group within the next few weeks.
1 It’s About That Time [incomplete] (10:52)
2 I Fall in Love Too Easily (3:58)
3 Sanctuary (6:30)
4 Bitches Brew (13:10)
5 Masqualero (13:33)
6 The Theme (1:21)