Following a series of spring dates in which guitarist Dominique Gaumont evolved from “surprise guest” to a full-fledged member of the live ensemble, the Miles Davis octet began a six-date tour of Brazil with a three-night stand at the Theatro Municipal in Rio de Janeiro.
While the official tour program (courtesy of Peter Losin’s Miles Ahead) confirms the band performed nightly from Thursday, May 23-Saturday the 25th, this tape of the penultimate show is the only circulating document – but what a document it is. Recorded on-stage by saxophonist Dave Liebman, the tape combines the clarity and instrument separation of a multi-track recording with a three-dimensional quality that simply immerses you in sound – the ability to hear the squeak of Miles’ wah-wah pedal in the quieter sections is a nice little added bonus. Like the similarly recorded performances in Sau Paulo the following week, these on-stage tapes make for an exceptional listening experience.
The curtain lifts with the clattering of a wah’d drum machine and some organ clusters from Miles before Michael Henderson drops in with the force of an atom bomb. Having inexplicably leveled up since our last tape, Henderson goes in hard to start the show and is overdriven to the edge of feedback throughout – dig how he lays out a few minutes in and lets his bass howl on one note for a good 60 seconds. Already, the way in which every member of the octet is in lockstep here compared to the previous month’s chaotic Keystone Korner tape is remarkable. Much of that is due to the guitarists having taken on distinct roles: Gaumont layering waves of feedback between flights of Hendrix-inspired indulgence, Pete Cosey supplying gobs of heavily modulated riffs and occasional theatrics, and Reggie Lucas stepping out from behind the steady throb of the wah to solo at will. Even Liebman seems to have enmeshed himself into the tapestry, weaving in horn lines as he pleases rather than simply taking his turn in the spotlight and laying back.
The transition into “Turnaroundphrase” is remarkable; Miles drops a whiff of the melody, Henderson begins layering the bass riff overtop and the band falls in line as if by crossfade. This set feels like a single organism – just an unbroken explosion of sound loosely based around the skeletal structure of familiar riffs. A subdued organ + percussion intro to “For Dave” is our first cooldown of the set and it’s executed beautifully, setting a moody backdrop for a superb soprano solo from Liebman as Cosey heightens the intensity with a few well-timed jabs on electric 12-string. Some great interplay between Cosey and Miles (on organ) ratchets up the intensity until a monster turn from Gaumont brings it to a peak and Miles surveys the plateau with a remarkable wah’d horn solo – listen for that squeaky pedal as things turn quiet.
Miles brings the tune to a close with a series of ultra-precise stop/starts, each emerging more gargantuan than the next until a heavy percussion duel between Cosey and Mtume puts it to rest.
As essential as it gets.
Miles Davis (trumpet, organ)
Dave Liebman (soprano, tenor, flute)
Pete Cosey (guitar, percussion – left channel)
Reggie Lucas (guitar – left channel)
Dominique Gaumont (guitar – right channel)
Michael Henderson (electric bass)
Al Foster (drums)
Mtume (conga, percussion)