Fresh off a triumphant tour of Japan, the Miles Davis septet headed into the studio for a brief session on February 27th to lay down the still-unissued “Turn of the Century“. Despite Miles’ absence on the track, the 16-minute jam is a killer, with Pete Cosey soloing at length and Mtume smudging the air with washes of textural drum machine as the rhythm section continues to ride the wave of Agharta and Pangaea‘s funkiest stretches. Why it was left off the period-specific Complete On the Corner Sessions box set is a true puzzler.
Following the session, the band returned to the road for a string of dates with Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters – a dream double bill for sure but one that found Miles on unfamiliar turf, as he recounted in his 1989 autobiography.
Herbie had a big hit album and he was really well liked among the young black kids. We agreed to be his opening act. Deep down that pissed me off. When we played Hofstra University, Herbie – who is one of the nicest people on earth, and I love him – came back to my dressing room just to say hello. I told him that he wasn’t in the band and that the dressing room was off limits to anybody who wasn’t in the band. When I thought about it later, I realized that I was just angry about having to open up for one of my ex-sidemen. But Herbie understood and we cleaned it up later.
Despite the high profile of the tour’s leading men, tour ephemera and concert reviews are rarer than hen’s teeth, and no video or photographs are currently in circulation. This audience tape of Miles’ matinee and evening sets in Hofstra is among the tour’s only known documents.
The afternoon set opens with “Funk” unspooling relatively languid and barely recognizable as Michael Henderson and Reggie Lucas lock in on an unfamiliar riff throughout. Miles smears the melody across the midrange, occasionally squeezing out a fierce run of notes but clearly ailing and technically limited out of the gate. The tune breaks down beautifully as Sonny Fortune takes over, with Miles building to a brief chaotic climax on organ before Cosey heads out on a long abstract solo down the home stretch while the synth and drum machine whir underfoot.
Miles’ heavy-handed organ work to start “Maiysha” overshadows the beauty lurking beneath, but the transitions are remarkably fluid despite the air of mild chaos. Listen to how Miles claws at the very fabric of the tunes here, intentionally pushing the band off balance and into unfamiliar turf with weird organ breaks and bizarre chord shapes – to the band’s credit, they remain unfazed, creating what must’ve been a shocking contrast to Herbie’s more polished sets. As “Maiysha” builds to a chaotic peak, “Right Off emerges from the rubble, heady and claustrophobic with Henderson’s bass riff anchoring a wall of drum machine, atonal organ and menace. The fog lifts briefly as the band boogies down the home stretch but Miles’ playing is tentative as though saving his strength for the late set and the tune fades as the band vamps tight. We fade back in with Miles on organ, toying with the crowd as he teases “So What” before a long intro of percussion, bells, kalimba, and heavily effected guitar gives way to “Ife” – distilled to little more than its four-note bass riff in the outro, this brief set closer is easily the sparest version of the tune we’ve heard.
“Calypso Frelimo” opens the evening show in full bloom, well past its trademark organ intro and deep into heady turf – snatches of the tune’s melody from Fortune our nearest signpost. A tape cut around seven minutes in sends us headlong into a full-on Cosey exorcism, with the guitarist waging war on his instrument until a brief pause steadies the ship. Miles takes advantage of a superbly funky groove across the tune’s midsection, volleying bits of melody with Henderson and Lucas until building to a climax with another phenomenal Cosey fit that oozes seamlessly into “For Dave”.
Once the dust settles, Miles steps in to solo over a plush soundscape – cinematic in scope, this is a truly beautiful section as the audience punctuates the fog with roars of approval before settling in rapt as the tension slowly builds. A quick flick of the switch sends the band tumbling into “Turnaroundphrase”, effectively breaking the spell of the set’s opening half as the rhythm section latches onto the groove with stunning precision. A long fade-out closes the tape as Miles solos into infinite space.
Get the tape
1. Funk [Prelude Pt.1] (15:41)
2. Maiysha (18:11)
3. Right Off (incomplete) (15:43)
4. Ife (11:09)
1. Calypso Frelimo (incomplete) (19:25)
2. For Dave (13:20)
3. Turnaroundphrase (incomplete) (2:41)
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)