The final tape from 1971 captures what was arguably Miles’ highest profile gig of the year. Fresh from the septet’s well-received 5-week Newport Festival in Europe tour and the release of the Live/Evil LP just days prior, Miles returned to the states intent on capitalizing on his momentum, going so far as to have reportedly spent half of his Lincoln Center fee to pack the audience with young fans. And either at the insistence of Keith Jarrett, or to avoid some of the dicey moments that made the European shows less than predictable, Miles also arranged for Jack DeJohnette to replace Leon Chancler behind the kit for this Lincoln Center gig. DeJohnette would remain with the septet through a multi-night stand at the Gaslight the following month but unfortunately, no recordings exist.
Though Miles would perform a few scattered gigs in the spring of ’72 with Tiki Fulwood of Parliament/Funkadelic on drums, this tape offers the last recorded evidence of Keith Jarrett, Gary Bartz, and Don Alias as members of Miles’ live ensemble. It’s also the final live document before Miles began the spring and summer sessions that produced the On the Corner LP, along with other material that defined the next phase of his electric period.
A pivotal recording no matter how you slice it, this incomplete audience tape has circulated for years as a bootleg LP titled Hooray for Miles Davis, Vol. Three, with each side curiously labeled “Bwongo” and “Ananka” in lieu of individual track names. Miles scholar par excellence, Enrico Merlin, recently cleaned up and speed corrected his needle drop of the LP and is streaming it on his personal site along with some additional factoids and analysis.
The performance itself is incredible for a host of reasons. Like a planet with its own gravitational pull, DeJohnette brings Mtume and Alias into alignment to create an undercurrent of rhythmic complexity that’s simply awe-inspiring. Jarrett’s also a key player here in that he, well, hardly plays – his Fender Rhodes rendered largely inoperable on the flight home from Europe, he plinks out a cluster of mangled notes during “Directions” before throwing in the towel. He returns to add some atmospheric organ later in the set but doesn’t solo – sadly, a non factor here in his final recorded gig.
The result of this largely keyboard-less, rhythmically dense ensemble is stunning. “What I Say” is pure bass and drum groove; the intro jam flipped on its head due to DeJohnette’s unfamiliarity, and the brief body of the tune anchored by a freight train solo from Bartz. Without Jarrett, “Sanctuary” is distilled to a mere snippet before Miles shoves the septet into “It’s About That Time”, bookending it with a pair or powerful solos, the latter of which floats over an untouchable groove.
“Honky Tonk” is probably the tune most effected by Jarrett’s absence. Devoid of his characteristic dual-keyboard intro, the lead-in is refreshingly skeletal, with Miles and Michael Henderson guiding one another through its ebb and flow. Oddly, Jarrett returns on organ as the steam builds (why he sat out the intro is anyone’s guess), just in time to add some quiet drama as Bartz takes flight. Fittingly, the saxophonist gets the last word here – blowing a wrenchingly beautiful solo before the tape cuts amid rapturous applause.
With cornerstones like “Directions,” “It’s About That Time” and “What I Say” featured in their final recorded performance, this is a document of an era at its end. And even in its incomplete form, it’s one of the most thrilling tapes you’ll hear. Essential listening.
Get the tape (sourced from Hooray for Miles LP)
1. Directions* (13:24)
2. What I Say* (15:07)
3. Sanctuary (0:40)
4. It’s About That Time** (12:39)
5. Honky Tonk (incomplete) (10:09)
*Final recorded performance
**Final recorded performance until 1991
Miles Davis (trumpet)
Gary Bartz (soprano sax, alto, sax)
Keith Jarrett (Fender Rhodes piano, Fender Contempo organ)
Michael Henderson (electric bass)
Jack DeJohnette (drums)
Charles Don Alias (conga, percussion)
James Mtume Forman (conga, percussion)