This audience tape from the Seattle Jazz Spectacular captures the band three days after Miles attended the funeral of Jimi Hendrix on October 1st. The date was also a bit of a reunion for Miles and a couple of former sidemen, with the Bill Evans trio opening the Sunday night gig and Herbie Hancock’s proto-Mwandishi sextet closing the show.
Following the band’s triumphant performance at the Isle of Wight, Chick Corea and Dave Holland parted ways with Miles to form the avant garde quartet Circle with drummer Barry Altschul and reed player Anthony Braxton. Holland and Corea reunited with Jack DeJohnette and Steve Grossman to record the remarkable Japan-only LP The Sun in mid-September, Corea would join the On the Corner sessions in early 1972, and DeJohnette, Corea, Holland, and Keith Jarrett continue to perform together in various configurations to this day – proof that musicians never truly leave Miles’ orbit.
New to Miles’ live universe was 19 year-old Michael Henderson, who formally replaced Holland beginning with a September 13th gig at the Boston Tea Party – there’s no recording of that show, but Henderson wrapped a tour with Stevie Wonder’s live band on September 6th, and it’s assumed he performed in Boston. Henderson joined a few of Miles’ early 1970 studio dates for the Jack Johnson LP, so “Right Off”, “Yesternow” and “Honky Tonk” from those sessions were added to the live rotation upon his arrival.
Meanwhile, Jarrett took over the Fender Rhodes following Corea’s departure. Steadfast in his contempt for electric keyboards, Jarrett remarked that he hated the Rhodes and Fender Contempo organ equally, so he simply arranged both into a “V” formation, added a wah pedal to the organ, and played them simultaneously in an effort to create a singular instrument.
Juma Santos, a member of the previous year’s Bitches Brew sessions, also began a brief stint with the group – adding congas and auxiliary percussion alongside Arito’s barrage of heady accouterments.
And with that, the next phase of Miles’ electric period had begun.
The set kicks off with “Directions” sounding unlike any version we’ve heard – nobody other than Miles seems interested in stating the themes, and the ornery groove threatens to dissolve several times over the course of the tune. This is also the first appearance of Miles playing his trumpet through a wah pedal, adding further texture to the cacophony.
New groove-based live additions “Yesternow”, “Untitled Original 701004″* and “Honky Tonk” prove to be a much better fit for this ensemble, chugging along with ease, gradually evolving and averaging a hefty 13 minutes apiece. At this early stage in the group’s development, it’s fascinating to hear the musicians gather their bearings; Henderson’s playing is much more active than we’ll hear from him at the Cellar Door a few months later, and Jarrett hasn’t quite merged the Rhodes/organ into the synthesizer-like hydra he’d soon master. And though the set flows beautifully, the absence of Holland and Corea is felt when the band seems oblivious to a few of Miles’ “coded phrases” signaling the next tune.
Given how quickly this lineup would coalesce and become truly exceptional, this tape offers a rare chance to hear the diamond in the rough. A band that was still light years ahead of anything else, even in its infancy.
*Miles began the practice of performing untitled pieces around this time that never appeared on subsequent studio or live albums. These are commonly cited as “Untitled Original” and are appended with numeric sequences designating the year, month, and day of their first recorded performance. Example: Untitled Original 701004 was first recorded in 1970 on October 4th.