Legendary Boston venues, Jazz Workshop and Paul’s Mall shared an address at 733 Boylston St., with both clubs situated comfortably in the basement of the Cinema 733 theater. While Miles performed with some regularity at the Jazz Workshop from the mid-to-late sixties into the summer of 1971, it was likely the sheer volume of his nine-piece band that precipitated a move across the hallway to the more rock-centric Paul’s Mall beginning in September of ’72. He would return to Paul’s for a few more multi-night stands before his 1975 hiatus, leaving a trail of bootlegs in his wake.
Fresh off its sternum-rattling live debut at the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival, the nonet settled in for this seven-night subterranean run the week of September 11-17 (Tuesday through Sunday for those keeping track). Two tapes from these performances are in circulation: the first is a superb WCBN-FM radio broadcast from the evening of September 14, the other is a blown-out audience recording from an undated set later in the week. If you need just one tape from these shows, make it the radio broadcast – there are a few moments of brilliance in the audience tape, but it’s a pretty rough listen.
9.14 – Radio Broadcast
Stuttering to life with the then-unreleased On the Corner standout, “Black Satin”, the band spends the first seven minutes in a sort of polyrhythmic tug of war, batting around the “one” before locking in toward the tune’s back half. The instrument separation in the recording makes for a wonderfully disorienting listening experience, namely the playful game of ping pong between the wah’d guitar and electric sitar across the stereo spectrum. The two-headed “Chieftain” > “Rated X” follows, their arrangements strikingly similar to their Ann Arbor debut – this superior mix is far easier on the ears, even if the groove remains frighteningly claustrophobic. Miles throws down a pair of tremendous solos here, deftly guiding the band over waves of intensity and dropping “coded phrases” that big-eared Al Foster and Michael Henderson pick up with ease.
The all-hands-on-deck “Honky Tonk” intro is a little too unstructured to work (and likely pushed Miles’ patience to its limit), but once the tune builds steam there’s an amazing round of call and response between Henderson’s bass feedback and Cedric Lawson’s organ that saves it from ruin. Unrecognizable in Ann Arbor, “Right Off” returns to form with the familiar bass riff, gains momentum as Miles begins his solo, then boogies hard to the finish line – James Brown be damned.
Get the tape
1. Introduction (1:19)
2. Black Satin (10:23)
3. Chieftain > Rated X (15:18)
4. Honky Tonk (9:44)
5. Right Off (13:44)
6. Sanctuary (:16)
Note: An incomplete recording of this performance is often incorrectly attributed to the band’s September 24th show at the Quaker Jazz Festival in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, no tape from that Philadelphia set is in circulation.
9.15-17 – Audience Tape
Captured on a recording device that sounds as though it was inches from the bass cabinet, this audience tape from later in the week makes the Legendary Guitar Amp Tape sound comparatively hi-fi. The entirety of “Chieftain” > “Rated X” is awash in punishing bass frequencies – listen at your own peril. “Black Satin” fares no better until Henderson’s bass drops out at 9:24 to reveal a delightfully heady carpet of percussion, tabla, organ, and widescreen sitar that’s deep in Don Cherry turf – is that a wood flute in the mix? Three minutes of bliss that likely justify why this gnarly tape is in circulation. “Right Off” breaks the spell and pushes the VU back into the red until Henderson eases up again around 12:40 and Miles lets loose a killer solo for the rowdy crowd. There’s certainly gold here if you’re willing to dig for it.
Get the tape
1. Chieftain > Rated X (17:24)
2. Black Satin (12:29)
3. Right Off >Sanctuary (17:13)
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)
Note: Big thanks to Ryan H. Walsh for the heads up on the historic Jazz Workshop and Paul’s Mall photos. Check out his book BTW, it’s excellent.