It’s hard to overstate how rapidly Miles Davis fell off the cultural radar beginning in 1974. In comparison to the wealth of images and live footage covering his activity from 1969-73, the stretch between January of ’74 and his retirement in mid ’75 is documented in a smattering of photos and a brief B&W video clip. And though the year saw the release of the excellent compilation LPs, Big Fun and Get Up with It, Miles’ extraordinary live albums recorded during this period – Dark Magus in March of ’74, and Agharta and Pangaea in February of ’75 – would languish unreleased in the US until the latter half of the decade.
It didn’t help that health problems and heavy drug consumption kept his appearances unreliable and his live calendar sporadic at best. By all accounts, even the band’s first shows of the year – a multi-night stand at the Shaboo Inn in Willimantic, CT – got off to a rough start.
“His road manager called from the Willimantic Motor Inn and said, ‘Miles canceled the first night because his hairdresser didn’t show up,”‘ says former Shaboo Inn owner, David “Lefty” Foster, who felt ill at the thought of telling the crowd waiting outside the club that the show was off.
“There wasn’t one boo,” Foster says. “They just all turned around quietly and started walking to their cars, got in their cars, and they drove away. I was in shock. I couldn’t believe it.”Hartford Courant, August 2007
With the band originally booked for January 24 & 25th (Thur & Fri), the stage recording made by Dave Liebman featured here is reportedly from a makeup show on Saturday the 26th. Though repeats of “Turnaroundphrase” and “For Dave” across both sets would suggest each hour-long segment of music was recorded on separate nights, I’m going to take Mr. Liebman at his word.
Not surprisingly, the music documented here at the Shaboo Inn is very much a continuation of the heavy, fractured funk the septet conjured on the Newport Jazz Festival in Europe tour the previous fall. What’s remarkable is the extent to which the tunes have been deconstructed in the 66 days since our last tape. Solos by Miles, Liebman and Pete Cosey are less linear, evolve slowly, or end abruptly; many tunes are nearly absent of identifying themes or statements; grooves stretch and swell, often settling in across several minutes of slowly expanding rhythm and texture.
The tape’s first set (or fragment) is prime evidence of this rapid evolution, unspooling from a barely recognizable “For Dave” into a long stretch of “Turnaroundphrase” that’s nearly devoid of its defining characteristics (it’s possible its theme and opening section preceded “For Dave” but was not recorded), before settling into a long bass + percussion jam with heavy audience participation around 8 minutes in. A wild, often unassisted Cosey solo marks the segue into “Tune in 5” at which point the septet reaches peak intensity with some incredibly timed pauses heightening the drama. “Agharta Prelude” closes the set with Miles and Liebman syncing beautifully on the melody as if to contrast the wooly madness that preceded it.
“Ife” begins the second set with Mtume on lead drum machine for the first time in months, using the primitive Yamaha beatbox to smear the rhythm as Al Foster and Michael Henderson lay down a solid bed beneath. Miles gets freakish on the organ under Liebman, Cosey sends the tune to its peak and an extended drum machine solo leaves the audience in stunned silence before the tune returns freakishly deformed. The set’s back half is pure sprawl, as “Turnaroundphrase” and “For Dave” settle in with extraordinary solos from Liebman and slightly more structure than earlier in the tape before a well-worn and muscular “Calypso Frelimo” closes out the document.
For all the darkness that lies ahead, there’s none visible here. This is an essential tape.
Get the tape
1. For Dave [Mr. Foster] (incomplete) (14:52)
2. Turnaroundphrase (16:37)
3. Tune in 5 (7:26)
4. Agharta Prelude (9:28)
5. Ife (22:00)
6. Turnaroundphrase (16:23)
7. For Dave [Mr. Foster] (19:08)
8. Calypso Frelimo (incomplete) (12:30)
Note: This tape also circulates as two continuous “fragments” made up of the songs above but in a slightly different, very confusing sequence. As always, Peter Losin’s session notes offer an excellent guide.
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)