Shortly after the Bitches Brew sessions, Columbia head Clive Davis introduced Miles Davis to Bill Graham, rock impresario and owner of the Fillmore East and Fillmore West. These two nights at Fillmore East were the first of five residencies Miles’ sextet/septet performed at Graham’s East & West venues through 1971 for a total of 20 sets (at least by my count). The fact that he accepted Graham’s rate of $1500 instead of his typical $5000 per performance indicates just how dedicated Miles was to expanding his audience at the time.
There’s a good chance you’ve already heard a document from this two-night stand, be it from Miles’ official 2001 live record It’s About That Time (featuring both complete sets from the 7th) or headliner Neil Young’s incredible Live at the Fillmore East released in 2006 (a compilation of tracks from the 6th and 7th). Both Fillmore locations also produced soundboards of most shows, making recordings of Miles’ sets fairly easy to track down.
And while eclectic lineups were Graham’s trademark, it’s still hard to comprehend why he arranged for Miles to open for Steve Miller on these two nights. Though in true Miles fashion, he dubbed the future space cowboy a “non-playing motherfucker” after his first performance, then purposefully turned up late for every subsequent set – forcing Miller to open the remainder of the run. Here’s Miller’s set on 3.7 for the curious.
3.6 – Night One
Miles performed two sets per day that aren’t just remarkable, but remarkably varied in terms of presentation and dynamics. The early set on the 6th mirrors the set flow the band perfected in the latter half of ’69 – though here Holland’s electric bass and Corea’s transition to a more riff-based approach to the Rhodes give the whole set a much heavier rhythmic focus. The longer free-jazz excursions are still hanging in there, namely on “Directions” and “Sanctuary” but otherwise this almost sounds like a rock band – which was undoubtedly Miles’ intention.
The late show on the 6th is my personal favorite of the bunch. The set list is a mere three songs (“Directions” > “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” > “It’s About That Time”) but the band attacks them with a renewed ferocity, vamping hard and stretching each well beyond its typical length. Check out the unique coda the band adds to “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” – rather than their usual mid-set downshift into “I Fall in Love too Easily”, they morph the “Voodoo” groove into something a bit more sinister and ride it for another 4+ minutes behind a remarkably powerful solo from Miles. Equally impressive is how they pivot to “It’s About That Time” as if by tape edit.
Get the tape of both 3.6 sets / lossless early set / lossless late set
1. (Band Warming Up)/Directions (8:29)
2. Miles Runs the Voodoo Down (13:08)
3. I Fall in Love Too Easily/Sanctuary (5:57)
4. It’s About That Time/The Theme (14:40)
1. (Band Warming Up)/Directions (9:58)
2. Miles Runs the Voodoo Down (10:16)
3. Miles Runs the Voodoo Down [Conclusion/Coda] (4:32)
4. It’s About That Time/The Theme (16:20)
3.7 – Night Two
The early set on the 7th marks the introduction of a wah pedal into the band’s sound palette, as can be heard on the sustained Rhodes notes during the “Directions” intro. (Soon enough nearly every member of the band would route their signal through the tone bender, so enjoy its liberal use while you can!) If Corea used the effect during the previous night’s show, it was subtle enough to go undetected but he certainly doesn’t shy away here, using it to further color his tone along with the ultra psychedelic ring modular + tape delay combo. Both shows on the 7th take a key from the previous night’s late set, dropping the mid-set cooldown in favor of an unrelenting groove. And as a result, these are two of the most intense electric performances to date.
The second set hits hard, sounding as though the band was somehow saving its reserves for this finale. This is also the first appearance of some post-Bitches Brew material, with “Willie Nelson” closing the set, fresh from its debut during the Tribute to Jack Johnson sessions in February. While the groove continues to dominate, the freeform sections are exceptional, with Corea/Holland/DeJohnette building a launch pad for Shorter, who absolutely goes off like a rocket – a deeply emotional curtain call on six years with Miles that spanned two of the greatest bands in history. His solos throughout the night are ultra powerful, but those on “Spanish Key” and “It’s About That Time/Willie Nelson” in the latter half of the set carry extra poignancy. Bless you, Wayne Shorter.
1. Directions (8:44)
2. Spanish Key (11:16)
3. Masqualero (9:57)
4. It’s About That Time / The Theme (14:03)
1. Directions (10:14)
2. Miles Runs The Voodoo Down (7:40)
3. Bitches Brew (8:02)
4. Spanish Key (8:33)
5. It’s About That Time / Willie Nelson (11:42)