The Miles Davis septet reached Oslo at the end of a five-night run of shows that were among the most thrilling of its 21-date 1971 Newport Festival in Europe tour. This performance at Chateau Neuf (an unassuming soundstage within the slightly drab headquarters for the Norwegian Students’ Society) was arguably the best of the five-night stretch. The concert was also expertly filmed and mixed for Norwegian television broadcast by NRK, providing us an exquisite document of one of the tour’s high water marks. If you’re looking for a single performance that reflects everything this lineup was capable of, this is it.
The beating heart of this phenomenal set is bassist, Michael Henderson, who maintains a mythical level of repetitive precision that gives these 80 minutes a solid core. He’s not featured frequently in the accompanying film footage, but when he is he’s visibly, utterly entranced – glimpse his focus around 25:15 while Keith Jarrett unspools an incredible solo to start “What I Say”. Miles is also remarkably ON from end to end here, staying more engaged than usual – it’s a treat to watch him take the reins and breathe new life into “Honky Tonk”. Through the wah pedal, his playing is pure mood and texture; once he steps away from the wah and removes the mute, his tone and technique are phenomenal. The closeups of his bespoke boot carefully rocking the pedal are a nice touch.
There’s an embarrassment of riches throughout this set; the powerful intro to “What I Say” that’s evolved into a tune into itself, Gary Bartz laying down an otherworldly solo in “Yesternow” as the ground constantly shifts beneath him, the way the septet locks into the groove to start “It’s About That Time”, Jarrett’s ultra-dramatic intro to “Funky Tonk”. Even the way the band stretches out for an extra-long “Sanctuary” while Henderson goes MIA is perfect. And as Miles packs his horn and walks off stage amid a torrent of percussion to close the show, we’ve witnessed it all. A veritable highlight reel of the 21-date tour in a single night – do not miss this one.
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1. Directions (11:45)
2. Honky Tonk (9:53)
3. What I Say (11:21)
4. Sanctuary (5:10)
5. It’s About That Time (12:47)
6. Yesternow (10:33)
7. Funky Tonk (intro) (6:28)
8. Funky Tonk > Sanctuary (closing theme) (11:28)
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)