Much like the band’s blistering appearance on the Dick Cavett show a few months prior, the exact recording date of this NBC Tonight Show performance is unknown. Given the septet performed at UCLA on October 10th, it’s safe to assume they recorded this appearance around that date; it officially aired on October 30th.
And like that appearance on the Cavett show, Miles’ intent seemed to confound the American television viewing public. Following an enthusiastic intro from guest host Bill Cosby, in which he fawns over Bitches Brew and promotes the then soon-to-be-released Miles Davis at Fillmore, the septet throws down a bizarre 8 1/2-minute medley of “Directions” > “Honky Tonk” (a pair of tunes that would remain unreleased until 1981 and 1974 respectively).
While the mix leaves a lot to be desired, it’s fascinating to hear this relatively new lineup perform a high wire act on a national stage. “Directions” is broken down to its essential elements – a skeletal percussion-heavy groove, Miles drenched in heavy reverb, and Jarrett pushing abstraction to its limits. Following a coded phrase from Miles, the band drops to a hush, and “Honky Tonk” creeps to life as if emerging from a swamp. And for what must’ve felt like an eternity for a 1970 TV audience, the band lopes along at a glacial pace before Bartz lays down a truly inspired solo, Jarrett and Miles follow, and we’re faded out after 6 minutes and change.
Video has yet to emerge from the NBC vault.