The day after a remarkable performance in Greensboro, North Carolina, the Miles Davis tentet made the 5-hour journey up to Washington D.C. for a pair of sets on the campus of Howard University. The resulting audience tape is the most complete live document of this gargantuan ensemble, including the entire first set and all but the tail end of the second. In many many ways, it also captures this lineup at its best.
Presuming our taper was seated stage right and near the front, bass and organ positively dominate the mix – offering a revealing glimpse of every peak and valley Lonnie Liston Smith traversed across both sets. Knowing a little more about how the Astral Traveler approached these performances with Miles, it’s quite a treat.
I had to figure out something! I had to be me and that’s what he wanted. Miles was one of the few leaders who’d get mad if you didn’t come up with something new and creative every night.Lonnie Liston Smith
“Turnaroundphrase” settles into its post at the start of the set, completely in the red from the outset and somehow growing in intensity as it progresses. Pete Cosey transcends the mix with a wild solo, Miles throws in quick piercing stab and “Tune in 5” simply appears – an incredible transition in a performance loaded with them. Miles and Smith team up to get ultra spacey while the tension recedes, rebuilds, then disassembles over and over with different instruments taking the lead when the tide goes out. A heady percussion segue leads into an impressively tight “Black Satin”, with Miles no longer toying with the “one” like we heard in Greensboro and Dave Liebman dropping a ferocious solo.
Smith shifts into a new gear beneath Cosey as the band transitions back into “Tune in 5”, full of full stop/start tension release over which Miles adds the “Black Satin” theme in the quieter moments. You can hear Miles toying with the concept of playing tunes simultaneously, but it’s yet to take full flight. After 40 minutes that likely peeled paint from the walls of the auditorium, a placid percussion jam closes the set.
1. Turnaroundphrase (11:47)
2. Tune in 5 (11:04)
3. Black Satin (10:33)
4. Tune in 5 (10:00)
“Tunraroundphrase” springs to life, tighter and less chaotic than the first set run through but just as thrilling – Smith reaches a climax around six minutes in, steps further out at seven, then goes stratospheric on the back stretch. The transition into “Tune in 5” is almost non-existent – we’ve suddenly reached our destination as Miles colors the air with synth-like jabs. Another mid “Tune in 5” breakdown features Smith at his most terrifying while the band segues into an extra funky “Zimbabwe”, easily the most straightforward jam of the night – listen as Cosey’s solo melts into Miles’ beautifully here.
Another miracle segue leads us into “Agharta Prelude” featuring a brief but sublime duo from Cosey and Smith and a tight theme from Miles and Liebman before the tune dissolves before our ears. Smith lays down a bed of pure texture as “Ife” creeps in like a fog, hangs around for a short seven minutes, then gets absorbed into “Tune in 5” – it’s incredible to hear Al Foster simply lay down the beat beneath the tune as the two songs merge. Next-level telepathic stuff.
The spell is broken as a giddy Henderson and Foster lead the band into a rapidfire hard bop, Miles joins in and a quick fade robs us of the set’s finale.
This tape is a beauty.
1. Turnaroundphrase (10:47)
2. Tune in 5 (5:58)
3. Zimbabwe (8:49)
4. Agharta Prelude (10:10)
5. Ife (6:53)
6. Tune in 5 [incomplete] (3:18)
Get the tape (both sets)
Miles Davis (trumpet)
Dave Liebman (soprano, tenor, flute)
Pete Cosey (guitar, percussion)
Reggie Lucas (guitar)
Khalil Balakrishna (electric sitar)
Lonnie Liston Smith (organ)
Michael Henderson (electric bass)
Al Foster (drums)
Mtume (conga, percussion)
Badal Roy (tabla)