6.17 – 6.20.1970 Fillmore East

Following a late April swing through the Bay Area and five hyper-productive sessions at Columbia B (Miles’ last studio dates until March ’72), the Miles Davis Septet returned to the Fillmore East for a four-night stand opening for Laura Nyro – the band’s first performances with Keith Jarrett in tow. While Miles’ previous pairing at the Fillmore East opening for Neil Young and Crazy Horse was undoubtedly more explosive, this lineup was a bit more strategic. Miles had dropped in on Nyro’s session for the New York Tindaberry LP in June of ’69, so there was a clear mutual appreciation, plus Nyro’s audience gave Miles the broad exposure he sought from these Fillmore shows.

The (Official) Recordings

By all accounts, Miles and Columbia approached the multi-night stand with every intention of producing a record. The first two nights’ set lists are nearly identical, as are the second two performances – a rarity for Miles, but one presumably intended to give him and producer Teo Macero a straightforward palette from which they could edit together a cohesive performance. Given the sub-par fidelity of the Fillmore West tapes, Columbia seems to have spared no expense in capturing the band properly, dedicating a channel for each instrument to allow for a clean, full-spectrum mix. And the tapes, presented first as Miles Davis at Fillmore, then in unedited form as the 3rd volume of the Bootleg Series in 2013, make for the best-sounding live document of Miles’ electric period.

The resulting double LP, released as the follow up to Bitches Brew on October 28, 1970, upended the concept of a “live album”. Rather than present each night’s performance in full, At Fillmore is comprised of partial segments of each set spliced together by Macero with little regard to sequence or flow – much like the editing process behind Bitches Brew and true precursor to the cut’n’paste aesthetic that would define On the Corner two years later. We’re presented with simply, Wednesday Miles, Thursday Miles, Friday Miles, and Saturday Miles. Cited as unnecessary, sacrilegious, even unlistenable, the collaged live album has endured its fair share of detractors, but it remains a thrilling listen and a refreshing apprach to the “live album” that’s still well ahead of its time. Recently, an intrepid bootlegger with access to the multi-tracks even remixed each performance by isolating specific instrument combos (keyboards only, trumpet, percussion and sax, drums and bass). The CD-R release has to be proven rarer than hen’s teeth, but I imagine the results are incredible.

6.17 – Night One

Keith Jarrett makes his presence felt immediately on combo organ (a rare Fender Contempo with wah pedal for those keeping track) but Chick Corea’s renewed approach to the Rhodes is what sends these performances into orbit. Corea would later say that the band’s stage volume made it difficult for him to hear and communicate with Jarrett, but that’s clearly not the case here, with the pair playfully circling around one another across all four nights – Jarrett easing into the fold by punctuating the groove-heavy tunes with a more percussive attack, and Corea relying heavily on the ring modulator and tape delay to color the spaces with abstract washes of sound, often “playing” the effects more than the electric piano itself. Neither Jarrett of Corea ever played quite like they did here at these Fillmore East shows, and Wednesday night’s set – a bit more subdued and heady than the rest – is magnificent.

Night One

  1. Introduction (0:04)
  2. Directions (10:23)
  3. The Mask (11:04)
  4. It’s About That Time (10:44)
  5. Bitches Brew (13:41)
  6. The Theme (0:40)

Wednesday Miles – At Fillmore Edited Sequence

  1. Directions (2:29)
  2. Bitches Brew (0:53)
  3. The Mask (1:35)
  4. It’s About That Time (8:12)
  5. Bitches Brew / The Theme (10:55)

6.18 – Night Two

The Thursday night set is arguably Miles’ finest singular performance of this Fillmore East run. Back on his home turf, and deep into a macrobiotic diet and a steady workout routine at Gleason’s Gym, Miles is in peak form and his tone reaps the benefits – especially at the start of the set, which is likely why the first three numbers made the cut in the original LP. The metaphor of Miles-as-boxer is cited often to describe his playing around this time, and it’s on full display here – floating, jabbing, nimble, and ultra-confident. Further proof Miles was feeling it, we’re also treated to the rarest of rarities here – an encore! What prompted the band to append the set with “Spanish Key” isn’t clear from the recording (aside from it being a killer show), but it’s a sublime nightcap.

Night Two

  1. Directions” (10:10)
  2. The Mask” (11:29)
  3. It’s About That Time (12:03)
  4. Bitches Brew (11:57)
  5. The Theme (1:29)
  6. Spanish Key (Encore) (10:20)
  7. The Theme (0:27)

Thursday Miles – At Fillmore Edited Sequence

  1. Directions (5:35)
  2. The Mask (9:50)
  3. It’s About That Time (11:22)

6.19 – Night Three

Another strong showing from Miles on night three, especially in the back half of the set. “The Mask” is particularly knotty, with DeJohnette playfully manipulating the beat throughout the walking groove section before Miles rights the ship and pulls the band into an exceptional “It’s About That Time”. Corea’s control and innovative use of modulation effects here are awe-inspiring and almost synthesizer-like. He also assumes his “previous form” more here than on nights one and two, obviously a bit more comfortable with the familiar set flow than Jarrett, and sounds at home taking the reins. “Bitches Brew” is the clear highlight of the night and one of the few tracks to be featured in full on the original LP release – moving between sections of abstract chaos and subtle, tight grooves like a self-contained suite.

Night Three

  1. Directions (12:50)
  2. The Mask (10:00)
  3. It’s About That Time (11:27)
  4. I Fall In Love Too Easily (1:47)
  5. Sanctuary (3:24)
  6. Bitches Brew (12:38)
  7. The Theme (0:44)

Friday Miles – At Fillmore Edited Sequence

  1. It’s About That Time (9:01)
  2. I Fall In Love Too Easily (2:00)
  3. Sanctuary (3:44)
  4. Bitches Brew / The Theme (13:09)

6.20 – Night Four

Like we’ve heard from the previous Fillmore residencies, the band shifts into a new gear on the final night – as if the previous shows were merely trial runs. Corea and Jarrett continue to spar throughout the set, but the gloves are off on Saturday night, with the duo far more combative and intense. The band’s interplay on “The Mask” is especially awesome yet again – note the loose, haunting groove behind Miles’ solo, Jarrett’s use of the tremolo on the organ, and another telepathic transition into “It’s About That Time” (which closes with a great noise battle between Corea, Jarrett and Airto). This is the final time we hear “I Fall in Love Too Easily”, which had been whittled down to a brief transition into an increasingly brief mid-set cooldown. Somewhat surprisingly, “Willie Nelson” is also featured here in its final recorded performance to close out the set – despite just four documented appearances and a killer bassline, it never quite reached the lysergic peak it promised during the Jack Johnson sessions.

Night Four

  1. Directions (10:48)
  2. The Mask (11:14)
  3. It’s About That Time (11:03)
  4. I Fall In Love Too Easily (1:20)
  5. Sanctuary (3:20)
  6. Bitches Brew (9:39)
  7. Willie Nelson (9:21)
  8. The Theme (0:37)

Saturday Miles – At Fillmore Edited Sequence

  1. It’s About That Time (3:43)
  2. I Fall In Love Too Easily (0:54)
  3. Sanctuary (2:49)
  4. Bitches Brew (6:57)
  5. Willie Nelson/ The Theme (7:57)

It’s positively stunning to recognize how far this band has traveled since the Blue Coronet shows, roughly a year to the day as this final Fillmore East set.