1.27.1974 Massey Hall, Toronto

After burning down the Shaboo Inn with a sprawling pair of sets the night before, the Miles Davis septet made the 500-mile journey from Willimantic, CT for a Sunday night performance at Toronto’s legendary Massey Hall. Like the previous night’s club gig, the septet leveled the audience in the cavernous theater with a pair of sets very much in the vein of what it brought to Europe the previous fall, but here in Toronto the band’s opening and closing sets are universes unto themselves. The first, a dead-on heavy funk blowout, the second, a dark, meandering, heady epic with more than a few bizarre subplots.

In the realm of audience tapes, our Massey Hall document is a solid one, capturing a bit of scene setting ambience before each set and the entire performance save for its dramatic closing minutes. After a quick buildup into “Turnaroundphrase” Miles and Liebman attack the theme ferociously – their solos ultra compact and the groove wound tight. Even Pete Cosey’s transitional solo into “Tune in 5” is tidy but Miles and Liebman take turns getting freaky once the groove settles in – the 5/4 rhythm slowly melting away and smoothing out as things turn atmospheric. “Zimbabwe” rises from the ashes of a beautiful transition (its first recorded performance in months) with some solid direction and horn work from Miles – he’s sounding renewed and his setup for Liebman is impeccable. Things get nicely spacious mid tune with some kalimba and a killer laidback beat from Al Foster until it quickly reaches a boil and fades into a manic “Right Off” that hangs around briely until they wisely segue into “Funk”. The groove is impenetrable as Miles hands off to Liebman around 4 minutes in with the precision of a relay team and the septet digs deep into the tune’s namesake. A few deft pauses wind the set down before stopping on a dime.

Miles begins the second set on organ as if to signal the sea change until Mtume’s liberal use of the wah’d drum machine steals the spotlight. His mastery of the primitive beatbox is on full display throughout the set. Cosey chimes in with an occasional ringside boxing bell (a recent addition), some synth-like textural slide guitar and a box full of percussion odds and ends to create a complete tonal sculpture beneath Miles before the band hits the themes hard and slips back into the stratosphere. It all melts back down to the drum machine as the band segues into a slowly building “For Dave”. A section of looped applause and some trippy reversed percussion signal a primitive (but enjoyable) tape edit before Miles lays out and the band runs wild – the percussion-heavy groove about 7 minutes in is sublime.

Miles returns to shepherd the band into “Calypso Frelimo” on Fender Rhodes – the first time we’ve heard the instrument on stage since late ’71(!). It’s unclear if the electric piano was brought out to replace a malfunctioning organ but the tonal difference is stark, adding a certain mellowness to “Calypso” and allowing both guitarists to take the lead as Miles fades into the background. After the band tosses the theme around halfway through, the tune devolves into a tight percussion jam with Miles digging deep on Rhodes and Cosey floating overtop, gently building to a dramatic pause until voices unknown join in to hum and whistle the tune’s theme and a tape cuts just as the tension begins to climb.

A superb show, but damn… what a bizarre ending.

Get the tape / Lossless
First set
1. Band warming up 1:25)
2. Turnaroundphrase (12:42)
3. Tune in 5 (7:01)
4. Zimbabwe (11:33)
5. Right Off (3:06)
6. Funk [Prelude, Pt. 1] (10:35)

Second set
7. Band warming up 1:36)
8. Ife (17:26)
9. For Dave [Mr. Foster] (13:44)
10. Calypso Frelimo (24:45)

Miles Davis (trumpet, organ, Fender Rhodes)
Dave Liebman (soprano, tenor, flute)
Pete Cosey (guitar, percussion)
Reggie Lucas (guitar)
Michael Henderson (electric bass)
Al Foster (drums)
Mtume (conga, percussion)