The Miles Davis sextet began 1971 much in the same way it closed out the previous year: with a steady, albeit scarcely documented run of live performances. And though 1971 saw the release of the Tribute to Jack Johnson LP in February and Live/Evil in November, Miles made no studio recordings for the first time since 1964, and there’s just one official live release documenting this pivotal year.
Despite the paltry “official” record, there remains plenty of evidence of the exceptional music Miles’ live band produced in 1971, beginning with these audience recordings from Lennie’s on the Turnpike in Peabody, Massachusets.
Situated on Route 1 north of Boston, the original Lennie’s on the Turnpike was a fairly remote but well-respected club that hosted live music from 1959 until it was gutted by a fire in May of 1971. Owner Lennie Sogoloff opened a new location shortly after but eventually closed up shop in September 1972. The club hosted the sextet for a pair of residencies in 1971: a seven-night run from January 11 to 17 (photos from those dates above), and a series of four shows on March 11-14, from which these recordings originate.
For reasons unknown, the recordings from these dates have circulated as “fragments” – collaging the sets together in a fairly disjointed manner, repeating a few tunes, and generally indicating they were taped across several nights. Despite their ramshackle presentation, the tapes were produced by a gentleman with good intentions (“… darling, stand right there … I don’t want him to see the mic” he instructs during “What I Say”). I’ve compiled audio from a couple sources of varying fidelity in an attempt to present all of the available material, but seven minutes of “Sanctuary” > “It’s About That Time” from “fragment four” remain elusive.
The sextet maintains the herculean level of confidence and muscularity it displayed at the Cellar Door shows toward the end of 1970, and can really be heard pushing the music in a number of new directions here. Keith Jarrett is thrilling throughout, especially on his wildly uncharacteristic, straight-up acid rock Rhodes solo in “It’s About That Time” (fifth fragment), revealing an entire universe of unexplored possibilities (this solo alone may explain why John McLaughlin is often mistakenly credited as a guest musician among traders). Jarrett’s duet with Airto on the “Funky Tonk” intro (segment three) is 11 minutes of tension, release, and cinematic buildup that’s interrupted at its climax by a bewildering stage announcement: “Does anybody in this audience own a trumpet, and do they have one with them?”.
And while Jack DeJohnette and Michael Henderson seem to have reached a new level of synchronicity since the Cellar Door shows, each providing an anchor while the other playfully drifts off script, there’s an undercurrent of tension seeping into the sextet as each member begins to fight for a bit of autonomy. Even Gary Bartz’ solos sound slightly self-indulgent in comparison to the way he deftly wove them into the sonic tapestry at the Isle of Wight the year before. Still, the tension of this slightly combative lineup serves the performance well, with Miles punctuating on wah’d trumpet throughout, stretching and abstracting familiar melodies like taffy and slowly releasing his grip as the band’s focal point.
Get the tape
1. Directions (12:32)
2. What I Say (16:19)
3. Honky Tonk (incomplete) (4:41)
4. What I Say > Sanctuary (closing theme) (12:39)
5. Funky Tonk (incomplete) + stage announcement (11:25)
6. Funky Tonk (incomplete) (12:03)
7. Sanctuary (2:59)
8. It’s About That Time (incomplete) > Sanctuary (closing theme) (7:39)