Whether in tribute to the Vienesse Joe Zawinul or simply the musical pedigree of the Austrian capital, Miles’ electric-period performances in Vienna were never less than remarkable. Though his set with the Lost Quintet offered a captivating peek at the psychedelia he’d explore in early 1970, and his 1971 show was a 100+ minute heavy funk thriller, this 1973 performance at the Vienna Stadthalle tops them all.
Expertly filmed for broadcast by Austrian state television, this document is an essential look at Miles’ 1973 band in all its glory – telepathic in its precision, fearlessly adventurous, and heady beyond belief.
As the band and crew prep the stage for Miles’ arrival, a generously long intro allows us to absorb some fascinating minutiae – a tangle of cables, Pete Cosey’s table of percussion odds and ends, Reggie Lucas’ rarely-seen pedal stash. Tools expertly honed for maximum impact on an audience that looks hilariously ill-prepared for what lies ahead.
Miles sets the tempo with a wave of his hand and we’re off, with Lucas smiling eyes closed as he works himself into the trance that the next 60 minutes require. Blink and you’ll miss it, but the way Miles and Dave Liebman sync up for a few jabs after Al Foster’s drum break seems to ignite the band – a phenomenal solo from Cosey, a seamless handoff to Liebman, and a heavy transition to “Tune in 5” spills over into a groove so knotty that Miles almost struggles to solo overtop. Cosey nearly derails it all during an expertly timed stop/start, but Miles seems to dig it as the band careens into new turf and everything falls effortlessly into place. “Ife” has some superb, minimal organ work from Miles as he eases into the intro, then lays a bed of freaky atmospherics while Liebman solos on flute and the band stretches out underneath. Miles returns with a solo that twists his horn into a foreign shape, almost synth-like, while Cosey responds in kind with an all-timer on 12-string – the zoom-in on his fretboard during the solo is a real treat.
A few technical challenges and some wicked stop/starts from Miles briefly threaten to send “Right Off” into the ditch, but Liebman rights the ship as his solo flips the switch into “Funk” and another superb round from Miles and Cosey follows. The film offers a fascinating glimpse of the mechanics at play here – Cosey swapping guitars, Miles’ constant directional gestures, Foster’s rapt focus on whoever has the lead. This is a band at its peak, with patience and confidence that make the music seem inexplicably improvised and meticulously rehearsed. The closing “Calypso Frelimo” is near perfection as Miles weaves a tapestry of mini-dramas with some remarkably empathetic horn and organ work – rarely have we seen him display control over both instruments as we do here.
As essential as it gets.
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)