Miles and his newly streamlined septet began a brief tour of Japan in mid June – his first dates in the country since 1964. While the dismissal of sitarist Khalil Balakrishna and percussionist Badal Roy was likely a result of Miles’ desire for a more nimble ensemble, Lonnie Liston Smith’s departure to begin a solo career left the bandleader without a regular keyboardist for the first time. Having competently manned the organ on 1972 studio sessions that produced “Rated X” and “Billy Preston“, Miles simply took over keyboard duties himself beginning here in Japan – contributing sparingly at first but going all-in by year’s end.
This well-documented pair of dates from Tokyo’s Kōsei Nenkin Kaikan concert hall proves the seven-piece ensemble hit the ground running – performing with the confidence of a lineup that knew one another’s strengths and gave everyone room to flex. As Paul Tingen writes in Miles Beyond:
“Bootlegs from this tour show the music at a higher level than before, more focused, elastic, and dynamic. With the ensemble pared down from ten to seven musicians the clutter had gone, revealing the revolutionary essence of the “funk with an experimental edge” in all its clarity.”
6.19 – Night One
The June 19th tape is the first of the year to include both sets in their entirety, and in stunning fidelity to boot. The song selection and flow of each set are similar to those we’ve heard from the band in the spring of ’73, with the early set a highwire act of intense, intricate funk played at a breakneck pace, followed by a more languid, menacing finale.
What’s apparent within the first moments of the early set is Miles’ adoption of a more restrained, almost delicate delivery. Behind the wah, his notes are pinched tight and often inaudible as though he’s trying to dissapear into his horn – but on the rare occasions he removes the mute and blows through the mic, his tone is powerful and clear. Whatever his intention here, there’s some serious duality at play.
After a maniacally fast “Right Off” teaser, the band segues into the recorded debut of the aptly titled “Funk” – here in its gestational form it’s little more than a groove around which everyone adds a bit of color, including some extremely tentative organ chords from Miles toward the back half. The tune remained in the set until Miles’ hiatus in ’75 and would stretch out across the entire first side of the Agharta LP where it was given the title “Prelude Pt. 1“.
“Ife” simply annihilates all in its path at the start of the second set. Deep in its comfort zone, the band takes its time filling out the space; Cosey adds a bit of autoharp that’s equally soothing and unsettling, while Mtume smears the air with a primitive drum machine that Yamaha gifted Miles at the start of the tour. Mtume, again from Miles Beyond:
“Miles handed it to me, saying, ‘See what you can do with it.’ We were in experimental mode, so instead of using it to create rhythm I wanted to see whether I could use it to create texture. I played it through six or seven different pedals, phase shifters, wah-wah, and biphase mutrons and so on, while pressing down three or four rhythms at the same time. … It was a total tapestry.”
1. Ife (22:16)
2. Agharta Prelude (9:48)
3. Zimbabwe > Tune in 5 (13:34)
BONUS: The revered curator of the Save Your Face blog has created a superb “condensed” edit of this 6/19/73 show. Check it out here.
6.20 – Night Two
The Nippon Broadcasting Corporation presents the second night’s performance in full color, though to keep it within a TV-friendly 60 minutes its at the expense of the first set finale and the entirety of “Ife” in the second. Still, it’s tough to complain about what’s missing with such stunning footage. The early set plays out much like the first half of the previous night’s, with Miles reaching for some impossibly high notes throughout “Turnaroundphrase” and Dave Liebman straight up outpacing the bandleader on soprano. Check out how Cosey’s solos often pick up where Miles leaves off as if the pair share a continuous thought – incredible stuff. Miles teases “Funk” during “Right Off” but the band never quite goes all-in as the broadcast fades out on the transition into “Tune in 5”.
Absent “Ife”, the second set picks up with Liebman and Miles deeply in sync on “Agharta Prelude” before the band rides an ultra-tight groove into “Untitled Original 730424c” – its placeholder title a reference to the unreleased April 24 session from which it reportedly originates. Despite the lack of a formal title, the band performed this angular funk jam with some regularity until the end of the year, even stretching it past 20 minutes at London’s Rainbow Theater in July. Like the previous night’s “Funk”, it’s less of a structured tune than a launchpad, and Cosey takes flight with some truly bizarre tones throughout. A cosmic take on “Zimbabwe” closes the set with beautiful autoharp and slit drum atmospherics in the intro and a remarkable solo from Reggie Lucas at the crest of the wave before a simple hand gesture from Miles brings it all to a close.
A breathtaking two nights of music.
Get the tape (both sets)
1. Turnaroundphrase (12:58)
2. Tune in 5 (10:03)
3. RIght Off (6:35)
1. Ife (not in circulation)
2. Agharta Prelude (6:21)
3. Untitled Original 730424c* (7:57)
4. Zimbabwe > Tune in 5 (14:43)
* First recorded performance
Miles Davis (trumpet, organ)
Dave Liebman (soprano, tenor, flute)
Pete Cosey (guitar, percussion)
Reggie Lucas (guitar)
Michael Henderson (electric bass)
Al Foster (drums)
Mtume (conga, percussion)