By all accounts, Miles’ hometown gigs were often beset by weird vibes, strange guests, and high drama, all of which coalesced here at Carnegie Hall for the live recording of the Dark Magus double LP. Much of the night’s theatrics were courtesy of Miles himself, who, after arriving over an hour late despite living just blocks from the venue, informed his septet that they’d be joined by a pair of guests during the second set – 22-year-old saxophonist Azar Lawrence, and French-Bahaian guitarist Dominique Gaumont.
While Lawrence had gained notoriety for his then-recent work with McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones, members of the septet became familiar with the relatively-unknown Gaumont when the band performed in Paris in late ’73.
Dominique took me all over Paris on the Metro and we were having a ball. I brought him to the hotel and introduced him to Miles, who was in a kinda semi-conscious state because he had been ill. He had nurses around the clock with him in the suite. So I introduced Dominique to Al Foster and we hung out and had dinner in the restaurant. We dined for hours and went to a club. I don’t know if Miles remembered meeting Dominique and the next time we met was in New York. When Dominique came to New York he hooked up with Al and Al brought him by to Miles’s place and that’s how he got in the band.Pete Cosey interview via The Last Miles
Though much is made of Gaumont’s contribution to the night’s second set, the beauty here is the way in which the septet so easily reshapes itself to accommodate the new musicians. Having honed its act to a fine polish, the surprise addition of Lawrence and Gaumont unmoors the band from its familiar patterns and allows Columbia’s tape engineers to document the exploration of some entirely new turf. In contrast to the expertly crafted psychedelia of the opening set, the sprawling, indulgent, often disorienting second set doesn’t simply make for a thrilling live LP, but one that captures a pivot point in real-time.
Like the Agharta and Pangaea live LPs recorded in February of 1975, Dark Magus was initially released to the Japanese market during Miles’ late-70s hiatus. Unlike those LPs, Dark Magus would curiously remain unissued to the rest of the globe until 1997 – a full 20 years after its initial release. Casting off song titles in favor of Swahili numbers one through four corresponding to each side of vinyl, Dark Magus is coded by design, damn near impenetrable, and captivating from end to end.
Disc 1 presents the first set more or less in its entirety, capturing the well-worn tunes with minimal discernable edits in a nicely balanced multi-channel mix. After nearly a year of tapes of various fidelity, the ability to hear every member of this ensemble in context is a revelation: Cosey and Reggie Lucas’ contrapuntal guitars, Mtume’s drum machine skittering across the stereo field, the guttural, vocal growl of Miles’ horn through the wah pedal. Flowing effortlessly as a cohesive whole, the first set is a thing of beauty.
The second disc is where all hell breaks loose. Leading off with an extended reprise of “Funk”, Gaumont dives in hard as though the tune’s single-chord vamp was laid out for him alone – and frankly, it likely was. It’s fascinating to hear Cosey and Lucas quickly fall into supporting roles, adding color and texture with some heavily affected tonescapes and otherwise allowing the young guitarist to have the floor. Once the dust settles, Liebman and Lawrence do battle, though here the young guest has trouble connecting and seems to leave most of the heavy lifting to Liebman for the remainder of the night.
Likely edited for the time constraints of vinyl, “Calypso Frelimo” is a brief trip to deep space with an exceptional horn solo from Miles (who inexplicably considered having Teo Macero excise his horn parts from the double LP). Similarly, “Ife” is trimmed of its haunting intro, dropping in just as Cosey wraps a solo then steadily deconstructing itself over a loping groove and the steady throb of a drum machine drifting in and out of time before Miles caps it with an unadorned elegiac horn solo. As the band closes the set with an unusual “Turnaroundphrase” > “Tune in 5” reprise, Miles is nowhere to be found – Liebman’s liner notes in the CD reissue suggest he simply left the stage after “Ife’s” final notes.
1. Turnaroundphrase (12:28)
2. Tune in 5 (12:39)
3. Funk [Prelude, Pt. 1] (14:21)
4. For Dave [Mr. Foster] (10:41)
1. Funk [Prelude, Pt. 1] (18:50)
2. Calypso Frelimo (incomplete) (6:23)
3. Ife (incomplete) (16:07)
4. Turnaroundphrase (6:14)
5. Tune in 5 (3:07)
Original 1977 LP Titles
Side A: Moja = “Turnaroundphrase” + “Tune in 5”
Side B: Wili = “Funk” + “For Dave”
Side C: Tatu = “Funk” + “Calypso Frelimo” (incomplete)
Side D: Nne = “Ife” (incomplete) + “Turnaroundphrase” + “Tune in 5”
1997 CD Titles
Disc one (first set)
1. “Moja (Part 1)” = “Turnaroundphrase”
2. “Moja (Part 2)” = “Tune in 5”
3. “Wili (Part 1)” = “Funk”
4. “Wili (Part 2)” = “For Dave”
Disc two (second set)
1. “Tatu (Part 1)” “Funk”
2. “Tatu (Part 2) = “Calyso Frelimo” (incomplete)
3. “Nne (Part 1) = “Ife” (incomplete)
4. “Nne (Part 2)” = “Turnaroundphrase” + “Tune in 5”
Miles Davis (trumpet, organ)
Dave Liebman (soprano, tenor, flute)
Azar Lawrence (tenor – second set only)
Pete Cosey (guitar, percussion)
Reggie Lucas (guitar)
Dominique Gaumont (guitar – second set only)
Michael Henderson (electric bass)
Al Foster (drums)
Mtume (conga, percussion)