The seven-month stretch between Miles’ triumphant run of shows in Brazil and the Japanese gigs in early 1975 that would birth Agharta and Pangea is one of the darker recesses of his electric period. Though the octet’s activity remained steady with dates throughout the eastern U.S., the live tapes are few and far between, many capturing only portions of the performances in less-than-ideal fidelity. Thankfully, there remains enough documentation to trace the evolution of the band that would emerge in Tokyo as the unassailable colossus that crystallized the final chapter of Miles’ electric era.
These tapes from Paul’s Mall are notable mainly for the inflection point they document – with saxophonist/flutist Dave Liebman having left the group after the Brazil dates, Sonny Fortune was effectively auditioned on the bandstand during the octet’s multi-night stand at the Boston venue. Our man got the gig and remained with Miles through February of ’75. The tapes are also curiously devoid of third guitarist, Dominique Gaumont, who’s inaudible on the August 2nd performance and failed to join the band on stage for the 3rd, providing a glimpse of the seven-man Agharta / Pangea lineup in its most embryonic form.
8.2 – Night One
The octet was booked for a six-night run at Paul’s Mall that began on Sunday, July 28th. Though session notes indicate a tape exists of the 2-set performance on July 31st, the only recordings in circulation are incomplete sets from August 2nd and 3rd.
Picking up as the band transitions into the second half of “Right Off”, the August 2nd recording captures Reggie Lucas in the throes of a solo, having clearly absorbed some of Gaumont’s wild abandon. With the taper likely situated stage left, the mix pushes Lucas to the fore, illustrating just how key the guitarist’s right hand was in shaping the groove – the variety in tone and technique he uses to evolve the rhythm across these 35 minutes is astonishing. Fortune solos briefly but with remarkable confidence as the tune settles into a simmering shuffle before Miles steps in comparatively reserved, pulling the tune into the morass. Just two months removed from his impassioned display in Brazil, Miles’ diminished power here at Paul’s Mall is pretty stunning.
The band segues deftly into “For Dave” with Fortune stepping nicely into Liebman’s spotlight with a solid turn on flute that sets up Miles for a luxuriously long muted horn solo. Just as a bit of entertaining off-mic chatter enters around 10 minutes in, Lucas, Mtume and Foster reach a boil to silence the chompers and Miles punctuates the deep groove with a few deftly timed pauses to close the set.
8.3 – Night Two
With a mix that captures the band sounding deceptively disjointed, the murky August 3rd audience tape is a tricky one – listen on headphones to better hear the horns and Cosey, all of whom are a bit buried. “Funk” leads off with a brief blast of organ and what sounds like Mtume running through drum machine presets until the groove finally takes shape and Miles solos like a theremin. The audience is rapt as the octet switches to half time when Fortune begins his solo at 10:55 followed by a solid turn from Cosey around 15 minutes in.
“Untitled Original 740419” remains little more than a vamp until Fortune and Miles tangle in the back stretch with some great wah’d alto and organ interplay before the band shifts into a mammoth “Calypso Frelimo”. Clearly the set’s centerpiece, the octet attacks the 25+ minute jam with abandon – Miles’ organ playing is particularly ferocious throughout the first half, but his extended, unadorned horn solo around the halfway point is loaded with peaks. “For Dave” evolves from a restrained slow burner into a fascinatingly abstract sound collage around three minutes in. Replete with washes of manipulated drum machine, waves of feedback and heady percussion, this closing stretch of music is a hell of a way to end a set and simply unlike anything we’ve heard thus far from an electric Miles band.
Get the tape
1. Funk [Prelude, Pt. 1] (19:35)
2. Untitled Original 740419 (11:32)
3. Calypso Frelimo (24:58)
4. For Dave [Mr. Foster] (10:10)
Miles Davis (trumpet, organ)
Sonny Fortune (soprano, alto, flute)
Pete Cosey (guitar, percussion)
Reggie Lucas (guitar)
Michael Henderson (electric bass)
Al Foster (drums)
Mtume (conga, percussion)
Note: Dominique Gaumont (guitar) is inaudible and likely absent on both nights.