While a wealth of tapes document the Miles Davis septet’s tour of Europe in the fall of ’73, factual record of the band’s itinerary is full of holes. One known gap is the 4-day stretch between a phenomenal set in Vienna and this November 7th performance in Belgrade – a dream double bill alongside the Rahsaan Roland Kirk Quintet. Whatever Miles’ band was up to in the span of time between these dates remains a mystery, but its atypical approach to this set makes for one of the year’s most captivating tapes.
Grey-market travelers may be familiar with this set from the unofficial double CD-R Another Bitches Brew, where it’s paired with Miles’ 1971 performance from the same venue. It’s a relatively brief show and by all accounts the band’s only performance of the evening – another oddity given Miles’ trend toward 60- to 90-minute headlining slots.
In a set loaded with relaxed tempos, melodies and themes that dissolve mid-statement, soloists who play out of turn or simply lay out entirely, and an effortlessly fluid five-song sequence consisting of just three tunes, the band tosses its playbook out the window here in Belgrade. Like the James Brown-indebted 1969 Newport set that foreshadowed the Bitches Brew vibe, or the mysterious late 1970 show that grooves harder than rhyme or reason, this tape from Belgrade is an example of one of the inexplicable left turns that are either an anomaly or a glimpse of the future. Either way, they’re a glorious listening experience.
This Belgrade set’s bizarre final form is shaped by a few elements, the first of which is the low profile of Dave Liebman on tenor and soprano sax. On opener “Turnaroundphrase” he’s nowhere to be found, leaving Miles to sketch the theme and briefly shadow box before tapping in Pete Cosey for a solo. His appearances are fleeting across “Tune in 5” and the reprise of “Turnaroundphrase”, and though he turns in a typically stunning flute intro in “Calypso Frelimo”, it’s his longest turn of the night.
The second factor is Miles’ clear change in direction. His horn work is pure utility – tightly wound riffing used to set the tone before quickly relinquishing the spotlight. His organ playing is beamed in from Saturn itself – heavy on bursts of terrifying, atonal skronk and liberal use of the instrument’s synth-like ribbon controller. And his reliance on drama-building stop/starts here is minimal, allowing the band to let grooves evolve at their own pace and transition into and out of tunes at will.
In Liebman’s absence and Miles’ desire to fade into the background, Cosey is given free rein – operating untethered from the set’s skeletal structure, sculpting bizarre new forms and soloing at extraordinary length across the entire performance. His leadoff solo on “Turnaroundphrase” and dual solos with Reggie Lucas on “Calypso Frelimo” are superb, but the entire set is simply littered with peak Cosey. Easily one of his most thrilling appearances on tape thus far.
At a tidy 44 minutes, this is essential end-to-end listening.
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)