As the Miles Davis septet neared the end of the 5-week 1971 Newport Festival in Europe tour, the band began performing with the determination and ecstasy of a marathon runner in the final mile. Familiar grooves ran deep and heavy, a whiff of unpredictability guided the jams into strange turf, and the septet remained impressively tight despite its exhausting itinerary. This performance from the architecturally futuristic but acoustically meh Palazzo dello Sport in Turin is a prime example of the lineup at its most delirious.
The audience tape is a bit murky and features some splices/drop-ins toward the end of the set, but it includes nearly the complete show. The performance was also filmed and edited with a fairly heavy hand for a program called “Jazz on the Screen”. Though none of the tunes are shown in their entirety, its soundboard audio is a significant upgrade and the film captures some great moments, including Miles’ reaction to Keith Jarrett interrupting his solo during an incredibly funky “What I Say” intro (seen here).
“Directions” emerges as if from some cavernous depth, with the band’s intensity poking through the sonic mush and the massive echo giving the horns a heady sort of depth. Though the bass is pure guttural gurgle and almost entirely shapeless, it’s unbelievable how locked-in Michael Henderson has become with the percussionists. “What I Say” is a mess on the tape but the video reveals one of the best intro jams of the tour – the fidelity clears a bit once Miles wrestles control and leads the band into the tune proper, though the sonics are barely sharp enough to reveal the distinct sections.
Miles and Jarrett duet in an unusually ethereal “Honky Tonk” intro so quiet and serene the whirring of the recording tape spools is audible over the stage volume. Later in the tune, Bartz gets thrown for a loop as Ndugu and Henderson slip into a rapidfire walk under his solo – clearly agitated, he seems to throw in the towel before Miles gleefully picks up his slack. Jarrett guides the band into “Funky Tonk” with a gut-wrenchingly soulful unaccompanied solo (again, represented much better in the video) before the band leaps in and we’re lost in a wash of funky murk. There’s plenty of subtle beauty just below the surface of this cacophony – hopefully, a higher fidelity document will surface someday and reveal it.
Get the tape
1. Directions (14:08)
2. What I Say (Intro Jam) (5:37)
3. What I Say (9:17)
4. Sanctuary (3:13)
5. It’s About That Time (11:22)
6. Honky Tonk (19:06)
7. Funky Tonk > Sanctuary (closing theme) (17:03)
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)