The Miles Davis septet returned to Bill Graham’s Fillmore West in October 1970 a dramatically different band than the one that shared a 4-night stand with the Grateful Dead earlier in the year. Gone was the effects-laden headiness, unpredictability, and unrelenting intensity that defined those April shows, replaced here by four identical sets built around dense, repetitive grooves. The resulting performances were likely a bit easier for the Fillmore audience to digest, and judging from their reaction on the tapes, the crowd certainly dug it.
In a typically eccentric Fillmore pairing, the septet shared the bill with Leon Russell, with support from Seatrain and Hammer. Not exactly the time traveler destination of a Miles Davis/Grateful Dead matchup, but a marked improvement from opening for Steve Miller. Curiously, there are no known photos from the October 15-18 shows, and tapes from only three of the four nights are in circulation – none of them complete. The fidelity of the October 15th tape suggests the shows were professionally taped, so a future Bootleg Series release may not be out of the question.
10.15 – Night One
In terms of recording quality, the first night is the best of the bunch. The tape reveals a lot of the nuance that makes the quieter passages more compelling and allows you to hear the interplay among the band – subtle details for sure, but they illustrate a septet that’s much tighter than a muddy audience tape would suggest.
The tape picks up with “Honky Honk”, noticeably tighter in its ebb and flow than it appeared in Seattle just 11 days prior. “Untitled Original 701004” follows, with Henderson and DeJohnette quickly locking in on a heavily syncopated groove that’s unfortunately interrupted by a radio advert just as Miles’ solo ratchets the intensity to a roaring boil. “Sanctuary” and “Yesternow” elongate the mid-set cooldown into an epic 18-minute simmer before “Bitches Brew” emerges, having evolved into a full-on spiritual jazz mantra.
“Funky Tonk” makes its first documented appearance and is a stone killer from the start of Henderson’s bass riff. Despite Miles’ ever-changing setlists, it remained the frequent closer from its debut here until it was dropped from the rotation in late 1971 (excluding the brief “The Theme” or “Sanctuary” riffs that signaled the end of every performance).
10.16 – Night Two
No tape in circulation.
10.17 – Night Three
The Saturday night performance is the most complete tape of the three, though the soundboard mix is the shakiest of the Fillmore tapes. Still, there’s some fascinating stuff going on here, particularly at the front half of the set.
“Directions” begins percussion-heavy, with Jarrett and Henderson buried deep in the mix but Miles in fine ornery form as he solos over pure percussion – once he’s finally added to the mix, Jarrett’s dual-keyboard solo is a jaw dropper. “Honky Tonk” stuns with an incredibly intense four-minute buildup, then gradually deconstructs itself across the remaining 8 minutes. Henderson struggles to find his footing to start “Untitled Original”, but the tune never quite takes off despite excellent solos from Miles and Bartz. The set finishes strong with another superbly groovy “Funky Tonk” but whether it’s a cruddy stage mix or Henderson’s failure to completely lock in, there’s an air of unease about this performance.
Get the tape
1. Directions (9:41)
2. Honky Tonk (11:39)
3. Untitled Original 701004 (incomplete) (11:27)
4. Sanctuary (2:47)
5. Yesternow (9:32)
6. Bitches Brew (13:24)
7. Funky Tonk / The Theme (13:37)
10.18 – Night Four
The Sunday night tape runs just about 40 minutes and though the fidelity could be better, the mix is solid and the fog of weird mojo that clouded the previous night’s set has rolled out. A relatively brief tape, but a thriller.
Like previous multi-night stands, the septet is positively amped and adventurous on this final night at the Fillmore West. Jarrett takes a more minimal approach to “Directions”, punctuating it with organ stabs and a heavy dose of wah wah that imbues Bartz’ solo with a nice bit of heady funk. The audience erupts as the band hits the first crescendo of “Honky Tonk” – word had clearly gotten out about Miles’ April Fillmore shows, because you’ll rarely hear a large 1970 crowd this attentive. Henderson again has trouble falling into the groove of “Untitled Original” until Jarrett cues him in. Despite its wicked bassline and a wild runthrough here on night four, the tune never quite evolved into anything too substantive and appears on just one more tape. A serene slice of “Sanctuary”, a mere 73 seconds of “Yesternow” and the recording mercilessly cuts before we reach the heat of the set.
Get the tape
1. Directions (9:59)
2. Honky Tonk (15:14)
3. Untitled Original 701004 (11:03)
4. Sanctuary (2:45)
5. Yesternow (incomplete) (1:13)