Despite health issues that kept his creative output minimal in the latter half of the year, Miles booked a fairly hefty schedule of live dates in November of 1974. And who could blame him? With a trio of phenomenal guitarists in the lineup and saxophonist Sonny Fortune now a full-fledged member of his working group, studio material from the period proves the Miles Davis octet was white hot.
As evidenced by this relatively unheralded tape from Cleveland, rumors of Miles’ ill-health seem to have been a bit exaggerated, with both the bandleader and his ensemble operating at peak form.
Session notes suggest a more complete document of the band’s gig at the Allen Theatre exists, but this 44-minute audience tape of the night’s second set is all that circulates. Oddly enough, a tape of the octet’s return to Cleveland a month later is similarly under wraps and out of circulation (quit hoardin’ those tapes, Cleveland!). Despite the tape’s limitations, the November 1st performance itself is a stunner. “Funk” lurches into gear with the band locked tight before Miles steps out with a deliriously weird unaccompanied organ break less than a minute in – returning to state the melody and take a brief but powerful solo, our man’s in fighting shape from the start. Dominique Gaumont and Fortune each solo while a heavy James Brown groove roils beneath until Miles and Mtume team up on horror show organ and drum machine to send the tune’s final minutes down a ghoulish path.
“Turnaroundphrase” emerges from the murk at full tilt with Miles throwing down another superb solo at the head before Pete Cosey unleashes hell around 3 minutes in, the groove reshapes itself, and the band slowly begins layering elements of “Tune in 5” overtop. A few brief stop/starts follow Fortune’s solo as the band reduces things to a boil and Miles drops a few wah’d organ chords to cue the recorded debut of “Maiyisha” – a track the band had laid down in a session just a few weeks prior that would remain in the live repertoire until Miles’ hiatus the following year. After years of punishing abstract funk, the effect of hearing the octet air out a subversive slice of cocktail jazz is a bit of a shock. But the band digs in, stretching and looping the organ + flute intro section just up to the edge of indulgence, anchoring the deeply funky mid-section with a monster solo from Gaumont, then gently reprising the cocktail section to close the set to stunned silence. One of the most well-executed sets you’ll hear.
Get the tape
1. Funk [Prelude Pt. 1] (14:38)
2. Turnaroundphrase (13:28)
3. Maiysha (15:58)
Miles Davis (trumpet, organ)
Sonny Fortune (soprano, alto, flute)
Pete Cosey (guitar, percussion)
Dominique Gaumont (guitar)
Reggie Lucas (guitar)
Michael Henderson (electric bass)
Al Foster (drums)
Mtume (conga, percussion)