When the Miles Davis septet began its 1975 tour of Japan with a pair of dates in Tokyo on January 22 and 23, the tapes revealed a band diving headlong into a sort of abstract, frighteningly psychedelic universe of its own making. The sets were often experimental to the nth degree, drifting well beyond familiar forms, tempos and melodic structures into a no-man’s land of beautiful soundscapes and atonal, sonic assaults. Thrilling stuff.
By the time the septet reached the southwestern end of the island a week later for a performance at the Kokura Civic Center (demolished in 2003 to make way for a city park), its raison d’être seems to have shifted dramatically. Though “Ife” remains the heady centerpiece of the night and one of the most thrilling versions on record, the vast majority of the set is wound tight, deeply funky and downright jubilant. With this the final concert before the performances recorded for the Agharta and Pangea live LPs, it’s fascinating to hear a version of the septet so different from the one documented just two days later.
While session notes suggest that many of the shows on this Japanese tour were recorded for radio, the only broadcast-quality tape in circulation is of the tour’s opening night in Tokyo. Still, this audience tape from Kokura is deceptively solid, featuring a hefty dose of echo but a mix that’s nicely balanced with every instrument well defined. “Funk” bursts forth with massive energy and remarkable focus – grooving hard but without the dark, manic energy that often made it an impenetrable set opener. Miles shifts the rhythm and vibe just slightly with each restatement of the theme before the setptet slowly begins paring the tune back to its essentials as it begins a long, wild segue into “Ife” with Pete Cosey smacking his reverb tank at regular intervals as if to imitate the sound of thunder.
Reggie Lucas lays down a great Mutron’d guitar arpeggio in the right channel while slow organ swells and a synth vs. drum machine battle weave a thick tapestry underfoot, but all ears are on Miles as he joins on trumpet. Listen to the way the band continuously gives him the clearance to state the theme, then oozes into a slightly demented take on the section they’d just wrapped. A stunner from Cosey in the mid section gives way to Michael Henderson taking the reins down the back stretch as he tightens up the groove before a solo from Lucas segues into “Maiysha”. Miles drops a few questionable organ chords in the opening stretch that threaten to break the spell but the band recovers with Henderson again leading the charge with a feirce descending bass loop (one of a few practice runs on a riff he’ll reprise on Agharta) as the set draws to a close.
Sonny Fortune comes out swinging as the rhythm section loops the “Right Off” riff unbelievable tight and Miles digs in hard on horn during the boogie mid section, using the wah sparingly but with absolute mastery. Miles briefly teases the band into “Calypso Frelimo” with a messy organ segue before Cosey takes charge and leads it crashing into “For Dave” while unspooling an ultra heavy solo to set the tone. The groove fades to a simmer in the middle with some tight work from Lucas and Mtume and an assist from Cosey on the ringside bell before Miles goes heavy on organ down the back stretch (are he and Henderson teasing Beethoven’s 9th?). Miles loses interest as the band tumbles through “Mtume” with little regard for the tune’s clearly defined sections – a true a jumble that miraculously manages to keep from sailing off the tracks.
Miles slowly rights the ship into “Agharta Prelude” and the septet explodes as if woken from a dream. Massive energy from Henderson overhwelms even Cosey as the guitarist lays into a brief but extraordinary solo and an audibly exhausted Miles returns to the theme before exiting the stage to applause about 8 minutes in. In one of the most unusual show closers you’ll hear, the septet remains onstage for a full 10+ minutes as the audience claps along for an extended stretch, Al Foster takes a long solo on the kit and Mtume closes it out to raucous applause.
Get the tape
1. Funk (15:53)
2. Ife (15:55)
3. Maiysha (13:40)
1. Right Off (14:23)
2. For Dave (11:26)
3. Mtume (12:36)
4. Agharta Prelude (17:30)
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)