When Dave Holland and Chick Corea joined the Miles Davis live band in August of 1968, the bassist was shocked that the crowd numbered just a few dozen for their opening night in San Francisco. “My expectation of Miles was that him being a great artist, everyplace he played would be absolutely packed. That was not the case.”
By contrast, Holland and Corea’s final gig alongside Miles at the Isle of Wight Music Festival on August 29, 1970 drew an estimated 600,000 – 700,000 people – the largest audience for a jazz performance in history.
Thanks to the resulting compilation album, documentary film, live DVD set, and 2011 Bitches Brew Live album, the band’s 35-minute Isle of Wight gig is perhaps the most well-known and frequently examined live performance of Miles’ career. And in spite of the heightened emotion of this being Holland and Corea’s final gig, compounded with the head trip of playing in front of such a mass of humanity, the band delivers on a level that is nothing short of astonishing.
One of the more fascinating details of this show is that Corea and Keith Jarrett both played rented keyboards atypical of their usual gear; here Corea performs on a Hohner Electra electric piano and Jarrett on an RMI Electra Piano with an “organ” tone setting. Rather than adapt to his keyboard’s unfamiliar key action and quirky tone, Corea leans heavily on his ring modulator and echoplex to create waves of heady effects, while Jarrett’s playing is noticeably restrained as he wrestles with one of the more maligned electric pianos of the era. As a result, the keyboardists are less up-front than a typical 1970 performance, almost relegated to comping throughout the set – likely accounting for the more “accessible” nature of this gig.
Despite these limitations, nearly every aspect of this gig is simply perfection. Holland and DeJohnette are absolutely locked in, at times visibly overcome with joy as they lead the band through some deep lurching grooves – the latter half of “Spanish Key” is a pleasure to watch. Gary Bartz weaves into the mix seamlessly, singing through his horn in pure ecstasy and rounding the edges with his distinctively soulful approach. Man, how I wish there were more tapes of him with this particular lineup.
It’s hard to imagine Miles could want more from this band than what they provided here at the Isle of Wight – a deep shag of impenetrable groove over which he could bob, weave, and simply destroy his audience. 50 years on it remains a pinnacle of collective achievement and a clear pivot point into the next phase of Miles’ electric journey.
Stream it on Apple Music or wherever you listen – it’s everywhere.
1. Directions (7:31)
2. Bitches Brew (10:09)
3. It’s About That Time (6:17)
4. Sanctuary (1:10)
5. Spanish Key (8:15)
6. The Theme (2:10)