Fresh off a week’s worth of warm-up shows in California, the Miles Davis septet landed in Tokyo for a three-week tour of Japan – Miles’ final overseas performances until the 1980s. The band’s last visit to Japan in June of ’73 marked a turning point for what was then a fairly new ensemble of musicians, including the debut of setlist staples, as well as the first appearance of Miles on organ and Mtume on the primitive Yamaha EM-90 drum machine – essential components of the band’s sound that would be warped beyond recognition by the time the septet returned to the island in January of ’75.
Rather than coast on the momentum of their excellent warm-up gigs at Keystone Korner and the Troubadour, the septet seems hell-bent on rebirth upon arrival in Tokyo. With both nights captured largely in full, the tapes reveal a quartet of sprawling, lurching, often messy sets in which the band favors heady abstraction over funk, often pushing both the music and the audience’s endurance to their breaking point. As the February 1st date that produced Agharta and Pangea looms on the horizon, hearing the septet begin to fully integrate the more experimental, sinister elements that would define those LPs makes these Tokyo tapes a thrilling listening experience.
1.22 – Night One
Expertly recorded for radio broadcast, the first night is captured in stunning clarity. And though the stereo image is reversed from the band’s stage layout, (Pete Cosey in the right channel, Reggie Lucas on the left) it’s easily the best-sounding unofficial document of the tour. Miles casually loops the “Funk” theme to start the set while the audience sits rapt and the band checks their levels before Foster kicks in and Miles clears the air with a few organ blasts. Some awesome sparring between Miles and Lucas around the midsection sets up a ferocious Cosey solo, his guitar so overdriven it sounds as though it’s melting down in the quieter sections. As Cosey wraps, the groove tightens and the band vamps hard through the tune’s segue into “Maiysha” – dig how Lucas mimics a clavinet in the tune’s final minutes.
Miles states the “Maiysha” theme on an almost perversely distorted organ as the band tumbles in, hitting each pause with incredible precision until Cosey beams back in from a distant planet while the tune plateaus and Michael Henderson drops a dead-on heavy bass figure that nicely counters the more melodic “cocktail jazz” sections. Despite their vigor out the gate, the band loses steam down the stretch and makes an early exit after less than 40 minutes on stage.
“Ife” opens the second set with a fuzzed-out Cosey echoing the theme as Sonny Fortune counterbalances the doom with a haunting flute intro. As Fortune wraps, Cosey and Mtume layer sheets of vicious synth and drum machine noise as Miles switches over to organ and Lucas lays a stunner of a solo overtop. A brief kalimba solo from Cosey leads the segue into “Mtume”, distilled to its essence while the band seesaws between the churning groove and the languid B section almost racing to the finish line before pausing briefly and launching headfirst into an ultra-tight “Turnaroundphrase”.
Lucas riffs hard on “Willie Nelson” while the band shifts into “Tune in 5” until Fortune takes over for an extended solo across the bulk of the tune – accompanied by washes of drum machine, pulsing bass and kitchen sink percussion from Cosey, this home stretch is one of the night’s high points. A skeletal run though of “Hip Skip” closes the set before an exhausted solo from Miles and a loping batch of stop/starts slowly reduces everything to its barest elements and the curtain falls.
1. Ife (18:22)
2. Mtume (4:12)
3. Turnaroundphrase (5:20)
4. Tune in 5 (4:07)
5. Hip Skip (10:28)
1.23 – Night Two
The second night’s audience tape reveals some stunning, bizarre stuff happening at the Shinjuku Kohseinenkin Hall. The tape fades in on “Ife” as though the septet were in the throes of a late set sonic voyage, laying down a heavy groove while Cosey sends squeals of synth around the hall before he and Miles settle in for extended solos. A stunning, burn-it-down show opener if there ever was one. A relatively minimal, patient “Maiysha” follows, oscillating between Cosey blowouts and its more gentle, melodic sections until coming to another unexpected full stop.
The band boogies “Right Off” from end to end to close the set, sounding remarkably grounded in contrast to the “Ife” > “Maiysha” odyssey that preceded it, with Miles soloing confidently across the bulk of the tune before leaving the stage while the septet lounges out the home stretch.
“Funk” fades in on a brief audience clap-along to start the second set before Cosey and Miles trade fiery solos and the band coalesces around a long, inspired turn from Fortune. Though the tape’s fidelity turns details and nuance to sonic pudding, the vibe grows oddly frantic and unfocused as the set progresses. Still, we can hear the band pushing its limits, throwing caution to the wind while reshaping familiar ground in search of new turf. “Funk” simply melts into “Mtume”, its groove smudged and blurry as the band careens between sections with abandon with even Miles seemingly thrown off balance. Cosey reflects the set’s unsettled vibe with a heavily effected solo in the tune’s final minutes before Miles hard resets with a long, dramatic pause.
A menacing “For Dave” crawls to life, barely recognizable as Cosey dominates with a long solo across the first half and the band refreshes the chord structure throughout. As if one strange run through weren’t enough, “Calypso Frelimo” is a catch-all, with the septet seeming intent on restructuring the tune from within as it explores and casts off different grooves and feels with abandon – briefly meandering into Grateful Dead turf around 11:30 before wisely segueing into a truncated “Tune in 5”. Miles exits to polite applause while the set collapses around him, leaving Cosey, Lucas, and Henderson on stage to sculpt an 11-minute soundscape of textural percussion, howling feedback, and punishing synth noise.
Get the tape
1. Ife (17:14)
2. Maiysha (13:40)
3. Right Off (12:58)
1. Funk (11:38)
2. Mtume (15:26)
3. For Dave (8:58)
4. Calypso Frelimo > Tune in 5 (25:11)
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)