Jack DeJohnette was the last remaining member of the Lost Quintet to exit Miles’ orbit when he and percussionist Airto Moriera left the working group in the fall of 1971. Though DeJohnette would return to the band for a few shows toward the end of the year, Miles wasted no time in turning his drummer’s departure into another pivot point in his electric evolution – one that would see him make a near-complete abandonment of traditional jazz structures in favor of rhythmic maximalism, repetition and a continued voyage into uncharted turf.
Backfilling DeJohnette and Airto was Bitches Brew alum, percussionist Don Alias, as well as percussionist James Mtume Forman and 19-year-old drummer Leon “Ndugu” Chancler, both of whom Miles had seen backing Freddie Hubbard at a Los Angeles gig earlier in the spring. The effect of three percussionists was stunning: a dense carpet of rhythm and sound that was often impenetrable, heady, and frequently disorienting. The rhythmic
assault complexity that defined Miles’ music through On the Corner, Dark Magus, Agharta, et al. began with this lineup.
Miles introduced his updated ensemble with an extensive 21-date all-star touring production dubbed the “Newport Jazz Festival in Europe” that included the Ornette Coleman Quintet, Duke Ellington’s Orchestra, and the Preservation Jazz Band, among many others. The very same tour on which his Lost Quintet would embark in 1969 shortly after the Bitches Brew sessions. As on that 1969 tour, the 1971 European shows were frequently broadcast on radio and television, leaving a trove of quality audio and video in their wake (17 total tapes!).
This performance at the Conservatorio Giuseppe Verdi in Milan was one of two sets the band performed on the tour’s fourth stop (no indication if this is the early or late show), and while offering occasional glimpses of the greatness to come, it captures a lineup that is clearly still gathering its bearings. The first half of the set feels a bit disjointed as the band experiments with different tempos, transitions, and an overall set flow. “Directions” falls into a superb groove beginning with Gary Bartz’ solo, “Yesternow” is pure momentum-killer appearing so early in the set, and “What I Say” is so unrelentingly fast the band spends most of its 17 minutes just trying to stay in the saddle.
The show finds its groove around the midpoint of the set with the laid-back pacing of “It’s About That Time” and “Funky Tonk” hitting a particular sweet spot. After retreating to the background in our spring of ‘71 tapes, Miles returns to the spotlight here and is in superb form throughout. And while Keith Jarrett sounds relatively subdued for this performance, his playing apparently had Bartz fuming after the early set. Here’s an excerpt of Mtume’s first-hand account from Paul Tingen’s Miles Beyond:
“I was sitting in the dressing room with Miles and Finney, his hairdresser. Gary Bartz comes in after the first set and complains to Miles, ‘Man, I’m tired. I hate what Keith is playing behind me. I don’t like what this motherfucker is doing, I want freedom. I don’t want him to play when I play.’ So Miles says, ‘Okay, okay.’ and sends somebody to get Keith …
Keith walks in, and Miles says to him, ‘Gary just came in and said that the loves what you’re playing behind him. Gary actually said. ‘Play a little more!’ I’m just sitting there going. ‘Oh, my God!” …
So during the next set, while Gary is playing, Keith is playing all over, smiling all over his face. After the set Gary is ready to go to blows with Keith! And Miles looks over at me and winks.”
Get the tape
1. Directions (13:36)
2. Yesternow (11:21)
3. What I Say (17:11)
4. Sanctuary (3:19)
5. It’s About That Time (13:32)
6. Funky Tonk Pt.1 (Improvisation) (8:21)
7. Funky Tonk Pt.2 (9:01)
8. Sanctuary (closing theme) (:44)
Miles Davis (trumpet)
Gary Bartz (soprano sax, alto, sax)
Keith Jarrett (Fender Rhodes piano, Fender Contempo organ)
Michael Henderson (electric bass)
Ndugu Leon Chancler (drums)
Charles Don Alias (conga, percussion)
James Mtume Forman (conga, percussion)