11.18.1974 Bottom Line

The Miles Davis octet spent its final weeks of 1974 on an unglamorous string of dates across the northeastern U.S., ping-ponging between multi-night stands in New York City, DC, Cleveland, and East Lansing. A remarkably anti-climactic way to cap a year that reached such remarkable heights as the Carnegie Hall show that produced Dark Magus and a triumphant tour of Brazil, but a stark reminder that this was a group of working musicians through and through.

The tour also offered an opportunity for the band to road test a fresh batch of material it had recorded over several sessions in the latter half of the year, much of which provides evidence of Miles slowly emerging from purely groove-based songwriting. With tunes like “Maiysha” and “Mtume” oscillating between loose, heavy funk vamps and clearly defined sections anchored by some of Miles’ most beautiful melodies in years, this new material is probably as close as we’ll get to anything resembling a traditional verse/chorus structure throughout the electric period.

A key element to this new direction was nuance, and despite Dominique Gaumont’s mastery of heavy, heady psych, delicacy was not a characteristic the young guitarist often displayed in 1974. Miles would sack him by the end of the year, making this audience recording from November 18 Gaumont’s last circulating tape as a member of the working group.

The curtain rises at the Bottom Line as the octet tussles with the unfamiliar groove of “Mtume”, stumbling between its distinct A/B sections with panache. Miles finally enters on horn around 5 1/2 minutes in once the dust settles, his confidence audibly elevating the band as the trio of guitarists begin to coalesce and mercilessly chew up the scenery. Fortune (sounding incredible throughout this tape) brings the tune to its peak before he and Miles tradeoff toward the back half and Gaumont begins cueing “Funk”, clearly chomping at the bit for a turn to let loose. Miles drops the organ intro and Gaumont runs wild, though briefly – his guitar effected within an inch of its life. Cosey > Miles > Fortune trade a run of superb solos as the tune plateaus and Miles leads the band into “Maiysha”, its intro melody loop drastically trimmed from its recorded debut in Cleveland weeks earlier. The tension and release is on full display here, spilling over into the study in contrast between Gaumont and Cosey – wooly vs. sculpted, the guitarists are on different continents throughout the night. As the tune rolls on, Miles’ timing on organ seems to degrade (purposeful or not) and the set simply deflates while an audible wave of confusion passes over the audience.

“Turnaroundphrase” kicks off the second set punishingly intense, with Miles punctuating the tapestry with a few deft pauses as if to prove how whip-tight his ensemble truly is. As with Dave Liebman, the band seems to be at its most expressive beneath Fortune’s solos, and “Tune in 5” is exceptional. With more familiar territory to work with, the rhythm section seems to turn itself inside out as Fortune wraps, gradually deconstructing into a freeform jam that features our first glimpse of Cosey running his guitar through the EMS Synthi A. (Trying to identify the primitive synth? Keep your ears peeled for the stuttering, atonal percussive clusters deep in the mix – that’s the EMS.)

The ambient tones carry over into “Hip Skip” and though the band clearly seems to enjoy itself, the two-chord vamp quickly wears out its welcome until Fortune briefly brings it all back into focus. Again, the tune crawls to a close until the first and only recorded “What They Do” explodes from the wreckage and the groove locks in hard. Fortune breaks through with an unaccompanied turn midway through and Miles wrings a tortured solo through the wah before a mess of digital blips and artifacts begin to fill the stereo field. A dramatic percussion finale and a quick fade-out signal the end of a bizarre pair of sets.

Get the tape / Lossless
First set
1. Mtume* (19:17)
2. Funk [Prelude, Pt. 1] (10:19)
3. Maiysha (14:37)

Second set
1. Turnaroundphrase (8:15)
2. Tune in 5 (5:03)
3. Hip Skip* (13:41)
4. What They Do^ (9:48)
*Recorded debut
^Only recorded performance

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)