This audience tape is from one of two shows the Miles Davis septet performed at London’s Royal Festival Hall on the final leg of the 1971 Newport Festival in Europe tour. Though there’s no indication if this recording is from the matinee or late show, my money’s on it originating from the early performance given the band’s intensity level and freight train pacing at the start of the set.
Much like the document from Miles’ 1969 show at Hammersmith Odeon, the murky fidelity of the tape tends to mask some exceptional moments from this London performance, but they’re here if you’ve got ears. After ten straight run-throughs of the same setlist, Miles appears to tweak the song order on the fly as he cues the band into “What I Say” immediately following “Directions”. Nudugu sounds especially thrown off balance as he spirals into chaos during the segue while Miles, somewhat hilariously, solos atop the wreckage. Once the band kicks into the tune proper the pace is absolutely maniacal, reaching a climax with a Rhodes solo from Keith Jarrett that’s the aural equivalent of a tornado tearing across an open field.
After “Sanctuary” provides an early bit of respite, the septet swaggers into a stunning “It’s About That Time”. Anchored by some incredibly inventive fretwork from Michael Henderson, you can practically hear the septet achieve levitation as they build groove upon groove, each funkier than the last. Superb solos from Gary Bartz and Miles cap the tune as it reaches a boil and the band quickly segues into “Funky Tonk” featuring an intro from an audibly ecstatic Jarrett. An intense 15-minute journey that peaks with another pair of monster solos from Bartz and Miles, the tune is reduced to simmer before an unfortunate tape splice robs us of the thrilling conclusion – the video below is the only source I’ve found that includes the complete, unedited finale, though the audio is quite crispy.
An unexpectedly serene “Honky Tonk” melts into “Sanctuary” to close the set, though not before Ndugu, Mtume and Don Alias cap it all with a thunder of chaotic percussion. A true thriller of a performance.
Get the tape
1. Directions (11:15)
2. What I Say (15:24)
3. Sanctuary (3:51)
4. It’s About That Time (15:55)
5. Funky Tonk (15:45)
6. Honky Tonk (14:25)
7. Sanctuary (closing theme) (1:35)
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)