While dicey health kept Miles from the road throughout much of 1972, his studio activity during the spring and summer was a revelation, producing the still-futuristic On the Corner album, providing much of the meat for his Big Fun and Get Up with It LPs, and collected in part on the Complete On the Corner Sessions box.
Much like his 1970 sessions documented on the Complete Jack Johnson Sessions set, Miles’ 1972 studio ensemble featured a rotating cast of familiar faces (Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette, Michael Henderson, Keith Jarrett, Mtume and others) and fresh blood (guitarist Reggie Lucas, Khalil Balakrishna on electric sitar, organist Cedric Lawson, drummer Al Foster, and tabla player Badal Roy). This time though, Miles took every member of his final 1972 studio session on the road – beginning the mercurial practice of smearing the line between his studio and live output.
Even with Henderson and Mtume the lone holdovers from his 1971 working group, the music Miles’ band produced when it returned to the road in September 1972 is astonishingly different from what poured from the stage just a year prior. The impetus has been dissected by the more qualified, and frankly, genre signposts serve no use – this music is the equivalent of magma erupting from a crack in the earth. Borne seemingly out of nowhere, it simply exists. The first fissure occurred on the final night of the 1972 Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz festival.
The tape captures nearly the complete performance from the best available sources; a radio broadcast soundboard makes up the majority before an audience tape is spliced in for the final 15 minutes. The video embed below features just the 45-minute radio broadcast, so be sure to grab the tape to hear the entire show.
Capping the 3-day festival with the penultimate Sunday night performance, the band bursts out of the gate with a medley of “Chieftain” and “Rated X”, a pair of Miles originals recorded just days prior (August 23 and September 6 respectively). Anchored by a propulsive hi hat groove and a horror show organ that practically saturates the tape, the opener is 22 minutes of texture and menace. The effect is overwhelming, even punishing, but allow your ears to adjust and pick out the brilliant components within the mix: the incredibly locked-in percussion, the oddly calming wah’d electric sitar, or the arsenal of heady tones radiating from the Yamaha YC45D organ. A universe of sound.
Following Miles’ cue, the band shifts into familiar ground with “Honky Tonk”, comparatively anticlimactic but maximal in presentation – the days of a simple horn + organ intro are long gone as everyone takes a turn coloring its haunting buildup. On the Corner centerpiece “Black Satin” makes its first appearance via tape splice, equally impenetrable as the set’s opening gut punch but with a slightly more digestible groove. The abstract organ solo at the outset is untouchable, making even Miles’ expertly wah’d solo almost tame by contrast. Another tape splice toward the tune’s back half reveals a remarkably attentive crowd as the band plunges into “Right Off”, containing scarcely enough elements to identify it as the Jack Johnson cut – Henderson’s iconic bass riff is nowhere to be found and the tempo is molasses. Heavily wah’d guitar + sitar dominates the midsection, bringing the whole to a searing boil before a calming solo from Miles leads the nonet into a chaotic, scorched Earth “Sanctuary” to close the show.
We’ve crossed over into entirely new turf.
Get the tape
1. Chieftain* > Rated X* (22:28)
2. Honky Tonk (12:18)
3. Black Satin* (11:02)
4. Right Off (8:51)
5. Sanctuary (closing theme) (1:56)
* First live recording
Note: It’s been suggested that “Chieftain” is simply a variation on “Rated X” given both tunes share many characteristics – which may account for why the “medley” is often titled simply “Rated X”. To avoid confusion, I’ll continue mirroring Peter Losin’s expert session notes for all live set lists.
Miles Davis (trumpet)
Carlos Garnett (soprano sax)
Reggie Lucas (guitar)
Khalil Balakrishna (electric sitar)
Cedric Lawson (organ)
Michael Henderson (electric bass)
Al Foster (drums)
Mtume (conga, percussion)
Badal Roy (tabla)