After an uneven first couple weeks on the 1971 Newport Festival in Europe tour, the Miles Davis septet experienced a breakthrough on its November 5th gig in Vienna. The band had loosened up, tamed its nerves, and found the confidence required to deliver a set of music with the capability to both defy classification and absolutely level an audience.
The cruising altitude reached in Vienna carried over into the following night’s performance at the Berlin Philharmonie, where the septet turned in one of its most exhilarating shows of the tour. Like the Lost Quintet’s superb performance at the same venue two years prior, the evening was documented in full color and sound for state broadcast.
The set opens with one of the longest “Directions” on record, chugging along for 15 minutes under the steady throb of Nudugu’s kick drum and nearly collapsing early as the final theme gives way to Gary Bartz’s solo. Keith Jarrett is in rare form throughout, benefitting from a mix that separates his Fender Rhodes and Contempo organ at opposite ends of the stereo spectrum for complete aural immersion. In a universe of his own here, he seems to veer off into a completely separate tune as the “Honky Tonk” intro builds steam.
The visual document reveals more than expected, with the band much more in control of “What I Say” than the frantic audio would suggest, and Miles clearly in far more physical pain than his playing lets on. Often doubled over as he works the wah pedal, wincing and kneeling on stage while others solo, his presence is noticeably diminished compared to his powerful Berlin performance just two years before – still, his guidance is impeccable as he leads the septet through one of its finest shows of the tour.
“It’s About That Time” bleeds into “Funky Tonk” for a stunning 40-minute stretch of music, the former featuring such remarkable interplay between Bartz and Jarrett that the keyboardist simply lays out as if to soak in the beauty of it all, then later dialing in an inspired “Funky Tonk” intro to set up the show’s magnificent final stretch. This performance is an incredible thing to witness.
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)