Miles Davis reached both a personal and critical nadir in the fall of 1972. Returning to New York following a brief but thrilling tour with a revamped nine-piece ensemble, he totaled his Lamborghini Muira and broke both legs in a gruesome, cocaine-strewn accident on the West Side Highway. The same week, his On the Corner LP was released to near revulsion from the music press. Yet, in the throes of his most fertile creative period since the spring of 1970, Miles refused to end the year a broken man – his studio sessions continued unabated from November into the following spring, often with the bandleader hobbled on crutches.
Miles would also make several changes to his live ensemble across the first half of 1973, including swapping out saxophonists, adding guitarists, ditching the tabla and sitar, and burning through keyboardists before taking over organ duties himself. This two-night stand at the Village East Theater (formerly Bill Graham’s Fillmore East) captures the 1973 band in the first stage of its evolution, with Dave Liebman on flute and saxophone in place of Carlos Garnett. Captured on grainy film and a passable audience tape, the sets feature a mustached Miles in incredible form, miraculously unencumbered by crutches or cast, and engaging with an intensity he hadn’t shown in years.
1.12 Night One
The only known document of the January 12th performance is a beautifully shot 26-minute clip by Japanese filmmaker Teppei Inokuchi. Included in his 1974 concert doc, Prince of Darkness, Inokuchi’s complete film is rarer than hen’s teeth but a couple of slices are currently on YouTube (don’t expect them to last). The circulating audio is ripped from what I presume is a multi-generation VHS copy, and I’ve included it below for the curious
Even through the murk, this is clearly very much a continuation from what the band was up to in early October of ’72 – same dense instrumentation, same gooey dynamics, and save for the debut of “The Hen” (recorded the week prior in Columbia Studio B but unreleased until the Complete On the Corner Sessions), an identical setlist to those from the previous fall. Cruising the stage like a specter and punctuating the music seemingly as he please, Miles’ control over the flow and tone of the performance is remarkable.
Get the tape (single unbroken file)
1. Chieftain (5:32)
2. Rated X (5:01)
3. The Hen* (5:21)
4. Right Off (10:08)
*First recorded performance
BONUS: Excellent set of photos of the band from night one via the Digital Commonwealth.
1.13 Night Two
The improved fidelity and longer runtime of the second night’s audience tape reveals a set that outpaces the previous night in every way. Miles takes control early, whittling “Chieftain” > “Rated X” to their essence and directing the band into “The Hen” with the crowd enraptured as he and Liebman trade solos across nearly 17 minutes. Why this scorcher was so quickly excised from the setlist is a mystery, but these Village East tapes are its only documented live evidence.
“Honky Tonk” erupts from a squall of feedback and an anything-goes intro before settling in just long enough for Miles cue the debut of “Agharta Prelude”. Incredibly, the band picks it up on a dime, building on the trademark dual-horn melody before shifting into a simmering groove toward the back half and deftly segueing into “Ife” – already in a somewhat different shape than its Lincoln Center debut just a few gigs prior with a massive percussion breakdown in the midsection.
Even in these incomplete tapes, the rate of evolution evident from one night to the next is astounding here – and it’s a pace Miles seemed intent on maintaining across the entire year. Fortunately for us, it’s also the most well documented of his entire electric period.
Get the tape
1. Chieftain** > Rated X (7:16)
2. The Hen (16:38)
3. Honky Tonk [incomplete]** (7:08)
4. Agharta Prelude* (10:08)
5. Ife [incomplete] (10:05)
5. Black Satin [incomplete] (6:21)
*First recorded performance
**Final recorded performance
Miles Davis (trumpet)
Dave Liebman (soprano, tenor, flute)
Reggie Lucas (guitar)
Khalil Balakrishna (electric sitar)
Cedric Lawson (organ)
Michael Henderson (electric bass)
Al Foster (drums)
Mtume (conga, percussion)
Badal Roy (tabla)