Much like the residencies at Paul’s Mall in October of ’73 and Keystone Korner in April of ’74, Miles Davis prepped his live ensemble for its upcoming overseas tour with multi-night club dates – returning to the friendly confines of Keystone Korner in San Francisco’s North Beach, then on to the Troubadour in Los Angeles before shipping off to Japan in January of 1975.
The Keystone Korner dates were also the band’s first since guitarist Dominique Gaumont was dismissed the previous month. And though Gaumont’s departure returned the band to the septet configuration it had honed to perfection throughout much of 1973 and into 1974, the band that emerged here at the start of 1975 was an altogether different beast. The smaller lineup certainly allowed saxophonist/flautist Sonny Fortune more room to stretch out and carry the music into different turf than his predecessor, Dave Liebman, but the biggest benefactor was likely guitarist Pete Cosey, whose approach to his instrument shifted dramatically, almost as if he simply absorbed Gaumont’s voodoo, merged it with his own singular style and was born anew.
With Miles’ rapidly deteriorating physical health and a working band likely aware it was living on borrowed time, the ensemble often performs as if guided by an invisible hand – both possessed by and in service of the master, the 1975 septet produced some of the most fascinating, gripping music of the electric period.
Our first audience tape of the year opens with Miles on organ and a bit of entertaining crowd chatter to set the scene.
(Miles lays into a bizarre cluster of notes on the Yamaha)
Voice #1: He’s gonna clear out the room.
Voice #2: That’s a D major chord with a minor 6th, and you know what … it can clear out a room.
As “Ife” assembles itself from a few organ chords, a sculptural drum machine and Henderson’s spare, tape-saturating bass notes, the band stretches the limits of the tunes’s structure from the outset, just barely holding itself together as Fortune and Miles trade solos overtop. Miles stirs the pot, building momentum until handing the reins to Cosey for his first of multiple jaw-droppers. Miles returns on organ as if to lure the music to its peak, then lets it dramatically tumble to a close. After years of unbroken, suite-like sets, it’s almost shocking to hear a song with a definitive endpoint and a thunder of applause.
“Mtume” develops quickly, remarkably tighter and more confident than its recorded debut just weeks before as it effortlessly ebbs and flows between sections. As Fortune wraps his solo, the guitarists add layers of textural feedback over a stumbling, minimal groove but the wheels slowly start to peel off before Miles wisely signals the band into “Maiysha” with a few wah’d organ chords. The band loops and builds the opening melodic section, slowly gaining steam until Cosey enters around 4:30 like magma oozing from a crack in the earth. Squeezing indescribable tones from a barrage of pedals and the EMS Synthi, the guitarist unleashes hell for a solid 5 minutes before Miles guides the music back to earth on the wings of the Yamaha and a quick fade out robs us of the dramatic finale. Incomplete and barely recognizable scraps of “Turnaroundphrase” and “Tune in 5” are tacked onto the end of the tape, bubbling and whirring as Miles brings the set to a close with a series of stop/starts before a tape cut draws the curtain.
Get the tape
1. Ife (17:43)
2. Mtume (10:09)
3. Maiysha [incomplete] (19:55)
4. Turnaroundphrase [incomplete] (1:16)
5. Tune in 5 [incomplete] (2:54)
Miles Davis (trumpet, organ)
Sonny Fortune (soprano, alto, flute)
Pete Cosey (guitar, synth, percussion)
Reggie Lucas (guitar)
Michael Henderson (electric bass)
Al Foster (drums)
Mtume (conga, percussion)