Miles Davis’ final Paris show before his 1975 retirement held much potential. The septet had inexplicably shifted into a new gear in Belgrade the week before that carried over into remarkable shows in Bologna and Barcelona, and performing in Paris never failed to elevate Miles’ game, as evidenced by a phenomenal show the previous July. Whether he soaked up too much goodwill pre-show or was simply distracted by the spectacle, there’s something awry in Miles’ playing and demeanor that spins the septet off its axis and careening toward chaos, confusion, and occasional beauty – often a fascinating combo of all three. It’s high drama at the Palais des Sports.
Despite radio and film crews on hand to document the affair, circulating audio and video of the performance remain incomplete – still, that didn’t prevent the film from being archived by the Library of Congress. The essential Milestones YouTube archive has combined all available film clips into a single video*, and while it has the feel of a closed-circuit feed, the audio is superior to the circulating tape. The film captures Miles at his most erratic – cueing a confused-looking septet with overexaggerated gestures and generally sowing chaos with frequent atonal blasts from the Yamaha organ. The performance seems almost rudderless as a result, with the band wrestling a phenomenal set of tunes that occasionally spark brilliance but never entirely transcend.
The set pops off like a rocket with “Turnaroundphrase” tumbling into “Tune in 5” amid howls of feedback and some heavy riffage from Pete Cosey. Miles pulls the frayed groove to a simmer and drops one of his better solos of the night before nudging the septet back into “Turnaroundphrase” – with Cosey and Reggie Lucas struggling to mesh there’s already a sense that the focused intensity the band had built over the past few shows has vanished. “Ife” crawls to life with promise as Dave Liebman and Miles get beautifully spacious in the intro until the organ overwhelms (a theme throughout) and the tune fails to coalesce, then mercifully gives way to the much-needed structure of “Right Off” where clouds part long enough for Lucas, Cosey and Michael Henderson to fall into sync.
The broadcast voiceover breaks the flow and a tape splice robs us of “Funk [Prelude pt. 1]” in its entirety but “For Dave [Mr. Foster]” takes shape around its skeletal bass + drum groove and continues its evolution into a proto “He Loved Him Madly” while Miles solos gently over some haunting ambiance until unleashing hell with his full weight on the keyboard and ribbon controller. A brief side trip into “Tune in 5” gives way to the familiar organ chords of “Calypso Frelimo” with a slow-building, anxiety-inducing intro that might just be the set’s high point. Around 9 minutes in Miles clears the air with an organ blast that leaves Liebman wincing and the rest of the band racing toward the finish line before Mtume calms frayed nerves with an impressive closing solo and some off-mic vocals from voices unknown.
This one’s a wild ride.
*Update: Video has been removed as of 2.14.2022. I will repost if it becomes available.
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)