Miles was no stranger to the Antibes Jazz Festival. Having performed three nights of sets in 1963, the second of which was released as the Miles Davis in Europe LP (nights one and three remain unissued), Miles returned to the fest in 1969 just days before the release of In A Silent Way, and weeks before the sessions that would produce Bitches Brew.
His 1973 set in Juan-les-Pins had the feel of a homecoming; both a return to a stage he’d conquered many times before and the end of the road for an intensive Japanese > European tour that saw the seven-piece band evolve at a remarkable clip. In many ways, this tape from Antibes is a collage of everything that made the band’s summer dates remarkable – long, elastic jams with an undercurrent of intense, heady funk and dark passages of abstract noise, all delivered with a whiff of unpredictability and mind-melting improvisational skill.
Likely recorded on stage via the band’s portable Revox, the tape is heavy on bass and drums, allowing us to hear how phenomenally locked in Michael Henderson and Al Foster are, as well as giving us a deeper look at the evolution of Henderson’s style since his more minimal approach of the Cellar Door era. Subtle shifts of phrase that keep monotony in check and the groove fluid – the man’s doing some heavy lifting. Opener “Turnaroundphrase” is distilled momentum, with the band practically plowing through the drum breaks and brief pauses until shifting into “Tune in 5” with remarkable precision. The intro hangs together by a thread as Miles solos over the wreckage before handing it off to Dave Liebman as the rhythm section channels Beefheart’s Magic Band underfoot. It’s hard to overstate how consistently Liebman has delivered since joining the group in January, and he’s on full display here. No slouch himself, Miles sounds reinvigorated after a sketchy night in Verona, sparring with Pete Cosey and directing the band through some superb stop/starts throughout “Untitled”. “Zimbabwe” closes the first set strong after a few nights out of rotation – the group interplay during Liebman’s solo section is a thing of beauty and check out the way Cosey comes screaming in after a mid-tune breakdown. A stacked first set.
“Ife” practically springs to life at the start of the second set with the band seeming hell bent on getting to the heart of the groove and Miles adding his trademark organ clusters from the outset. By five minutes in we’re deep in the woods. Re-stating the theme while Mtume lets loose a deconstructed drum machine solo at around 8:20, Miles returns to the organ for the tune’s back half, channeling Lonnie Liston Smith as he gets downright wicked with the wah until Cosey unleashes a massive noise solo and the band slips into an astounding “Tune in 5” closer. An intense solo from Liebman at the outset might be the highlight of a night full of them, but “Tune in 5” barrels on from peak to peak as the band explodes into a series of mini jams between the pauses – Henderson overlays the “Calypso Frelimo” vamp around six minutes in, Miles drops the “Ife” theme a few times toward the back half, and the magnificent whole might be our most captivating 17 minutes of 1973 thus far. An unmissable tape.
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)