Miles Davis’ electric period is largely defined by the quartet of albums bookending his seven-year creative run – In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, studio LPs laid to tape six months apart in 1969, and Agharta and Pangaea, live albums recorded during matinee and evening performances in Osaka, Japan on February 1, 1975. Whereas the 1969 LPs marked a pivot point in Miles’ career and created a template for an entire genre of music, Agharta and Pangaea remain firmly entrenched in the future. Music that’s defiantly unclassifiable and delightfully impenetrable.
Like the most rewarding live Miles tapes, such as his first gigs at the Fillmore West, the late ’71 show from Switzerland, or the septet’s gripping ’73 set in Pescara, the tapes from Osaka reflect a band possessed by forces unknown – creating music that travels far beyond any familiar terrain but executed with remarkable confidence and ease. While the septet hinted at some of its darker, headier, more sinister tendencies earlier in the Japanese tour, those elements don’t simply come into bloom here on the first of February, they propel the music itself.
The afternoon performance captured on Agharta is more upbeat, immediate, and frequently stunning, but the languid, unspooling sets documented on Pangaea reveal an equally compelling cache of riches. These are universes unto themselves. Whatever your preference, the best approach is to simply get lost in them.
Afternoon show: Agharta
Recorded during the band’s 4pm matinee performance and released the following August, Agharta was the first official live document of Miles’ core 1973-75 septet. Though the Dark Magus live album was recorded 10 months earlier with an expanded lineup including Dominique Gaumont on third guitar and Azar Lawrence on horn alongside Dave Liebman, that LP would remain unreleased until 1977. While Agharta’s title (an allusion to a subterranean utopia located in the Earth’s core) was chosen by the label, Miles personally requested visionary artist Yokoo Tadanori to design the sleeve of the Japanese release, with the North American version boasting similarly psychedelic cover art courtesy of Columbia’s in-house art director, John Berg.
From Miles’ opening organ chords, the precision of “Funk” is astonishing – due in large part to Reggie Lucas, whose guitar sits nicely out front and bridges the tight groove with Pete Cosey’s scene-setting atmospherics. Front-loaded solos from Miles and Sonny Fortune are the last remnants of an earthly voyage before an organ breakdown at 11:25 signals the start of a Cosey solo that sends us stratospheric. Though all ears are justifiably on the lead guitarist, listen to Lucas twisting his instrument into a monosynth underfoot.
Cosey’s guitar sounds as if it’s disintegrating by 14:45 as Michael Henderson begins reshaping the groove and Miles sends the band careening down a dark, terrifying path with a few well-timed pauses and superb organ pads. The music slowly opens up as Miles guides the band into “Agharta Prelude”, stating the melody at a relative whisper as if keeping the septet reined in and conserving its energy. Henderson begins a long stretch of intense, popping bass, gradually building as Fortune solos, Miles dissects it all with a mess of pauses, and Cosey again unleashes hell across the mid-section.
“Maiysha” opens up with remarkable restraint, seesawing between its two halves while Fortune’s flute gently bridges the transitions. Miles’ mid-point solo sets up Henderson with a descending bass riff that threatens to set the back stretch ablaze until the bandleader pulls it back from the brink with an organ melody that caps the set.
“Right Off” simply explodes to start the second half, with Fortune soling ferociously at the head before the tension plateaus and the band hangs onto the transition, slowly evolving the groove as Cosey solos – eventually settling into the choogle as if waking from a dream. Miles solos casual-cool toward the back half before he and Henderson briefly slip into “ So What” as the transition to “Ife” begins. Foster summons the behemoth on flute as synth, organ, and heavily effected guitars whirl underfoot and Miles settles in for a solo. The tune dissolves, stopping and starting amid howls of synth and feedback as though the band was summoning spirits.
A long stretch of delicate, hushed collective improvisation gives way to For Dave as the set turns inward, almost dirge-like for its final stretch. Miles’ solo is haunted, full of spittle and pain as he battles exhausted like a bloodied fighter in the final rounds while the band reacts with empathy, keeping the groove to a simmer as Cosey solos near-silent and Miles cues a series of pauses on organ to slowly drag the machine to a halt. A long 10+ minute abstract soundscape closes the set like a curtain slowly falling on a widescreen epic.
1. Funk [Prelude Pt. 1] (22:00) [Titled “Prelude Part 1” on original LP]
2. Agharta Prelude (10:32) [Titled “Prelude Part 2” on original LP]
3. Maiysha (13:06)
1. Right Off (17:22) [Combined with “Ife” and titled “Interlude” on original LP]
2. Ife (17:35) [Combined with “Right Off” and titled “Interlude” on original LP]
3. For Dave (25:44) [Titled “Theme from Jack Johnson” on original LP]
Notes on the official Agharta release(s)
Track lengths listed above reflect the complete, unedited concert. As of May 2022, the only physical releases to include the complete afternoon performance are the 1996 and 2000 Sony Master Sound Japanese CDs – both of which include an additional 10 minutes of synth, percussion, and bass experimentation at the close of the second set. These complete sets are presented in the video embeds above (many thanks to the Milestones YouTube channel).
The various physical and streaming versions of Agharta and Pangaea also vary slightly in terms of mixes, mastering, and their use of post-production effects such as tape delay, reverb, or compression. Here’s a solid analysis of the differences in each release.
Evening show: Pangaea
Pangaea was recorded during the band’s 7pm performance and released in Japan in 1975 with art from Teruhisa Tajima. Incredibly, the album didn’t see a worldwide release until 1990, giving it a somewhat mythic status upon its arrival as part of Columbia’s Jazz Contemporary Masters reissue program.
Though the band erupts out of the gate with a 20-minute “Turnaroundphrase” > “Tune in 5” medley, the energy the septet expelled during the afternoon show makes the evening performance a far dreamier affair. With long stretches of nuanced collective improvisation, the resulting album is loaded with heady, spiritual-jazz touchpoints – Agharta’s ideal counterpart.
“Our concerts began like a balloon that was incredibly compressed … After that it was a matter of gradually letting the air out. The energy it took us to play at that level was enormous. There were times that we had to lie down after we had finished playing.” – MtumeFrom Paul Tingen’s Miles Beyond: The Electric Explorations of Miles Davis, 1967-1991
Though “Turnaroundphrase” opens tight as a whip, Miles is audibly spent and loose out of the gate while soloing with all the vigor he can muster across the opening five minutes. The band turns the groove inside-out as Fortune settles in for an extended solo, the guitars churn near unrecognizable underfoot and Cosey takes off on his first stunner of the night – his guitar work possibly more untethered than the afternoon show, if that’s even possible.
Lucas riffs on “Willie Nelson” as the band melts into “Tune in 5” amid waves of feedback and skeletal percussion before reaching an early set hush. Al Foster’s full kit roll sends the band tumbling back into “Turnaroundphrase” before layering “Tune in 5” overtop amid another Cosey meltdown. Miles leads the transition into “Zimbabwe” for a welcome bit of mellow to contrast the ferocity and the septet digs in hard, riding waves of tension and release and swapping solos with incredible fluidity – Lucas delivers a knockout around 30:30.
Cosey and Mtume travel the spaceways on the EMS Synthi and drum machine as the tune creeps to a halt, smearing alien textures across the stereo field while Miles caps the set with an understated solo and wordless vocals relay the creator’s masterplan overtop Cosey’s autoharp.
The second set mirrors the home stretch of the matinee, but the vibe is drastically more subtle from the start. Foster’s drumming is almost tribal across the intro as Lucas counters the main riff with one that gives the tune new energy – sending it adrift in search of new land. Things again get spatial and hushed for an extended stretch beginning around 10:30, with mbira and water drum holding court before Miles raises the temperature, loops the theme, and begins the long segue into “For Dave”. Cosey lays an incredible solo across the intro while Lucas supports with an astonishing set of evolving figures in the opposite channel – a long stretch that might be the highlight of the day.
After a quick pause marks a hard reset, the septet rebuilds the groove as Miles sets the tone on organ then digs in for a long, mournful solo with Lucas stepping in with a beautiful bed of chords underfoot amid shouts of “Play it Miles!” as the energy slowly grows. Miles guides the band through a simmering organ-led vamp down the home stretch, surveying the day’s wreckage before capping it with a brief dramatic swell and a few minutes of heady drum machine, haunted synth, and feedback.
1. Turnaroundphrase (11:05)
2. Tune in 5 (4:53)
3. Turnaroundphrase (3:11)
4. Tune in 5 (2:41)
5. Zimbabwe (19:41)
Note: The “Turnaroundphrase” > “Tune in 5” (x2) medley is titled “Zimbabwe” (Part 1) on the original LP. “Zimbabwe” itself is given the title “Zimbabwe” (Part 2).
1. Ife (18:56)
2. For Dave (30:42)
Note: “Ife” and a portion of “For Dave” are titled “Gondwana” (Part 1) on the original LP. The remainder of “For Dave” is titled “Gondwana” (Part 2).
Notes on the official Pangaea release(s)
Track lengths listed above reflect the complete, unedited concert. As of May 2022, the only physical releases to include the complete evening performance are the 1996 and 2001 Sony Master Sound CDs, as well as the version of Pangaea included in the 70-disc Complete Columbia Album Collection released in 2009. Like Agharta, these complete/unedited sets include an additional 2+ minutes of synth, percussion, and bass experimentation at the close of the second set.
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)