After nagging health issues and an exhausting schedule culminated in Miles collapsing backstage after a St. Louis concert on March 27th, his band canceled its remaining tour with Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters and took a well-deserved break from the road. Rest and recuperation be damned, the respite was a brief one, and the Miles Davis septet resumed its live activity with a six-night run at Paul’s Mall beginning on April 28th. This was a band on a mission, returning to the stage invigorated and intent on continuing its rapid evolution.
As tapes from previous visits to the venue suggest, Miles clearly felt an affinity for Paul’s Mall, treating extended stays at the basement club as a testing ground for new ideas and a prime locale to audition new band members, as saxophonist Sonny Fortune would learn halfway through this 1975 residency. Upon seeing a young sax player named Sam Morrison during the band’s break from the road, Miles invited the Long Islander to sit in with the septet during the final nights of the Paul’s Mall run.
Having watched Morrison from the crowd for an entire set and hearing Miles tell others “I haven’t heard that much fire on the saxophone since ‘Trane was in my band”, Fortune resigned his post the following day. With Morrison’s arrival, the final lineup of Miles’ electric period was chiseled in stone.
The audience tape of what is presumably Morrison’s first set with the band is disarmingly rough, over-saturated, and firmly in the red, particularly as the band leaps out the gate at full tilt. Miles is in great form despite his physical limitations and Morrison makes an impact immediately, weaving into the fabric of a band that’s grown startlingly tight. On the heels of a tape-melting Pete Cosey solo and stop/starts so sharp the audience is left in stunned silence, the band launches into “Tune in 5” briefly more tame and audible than the opener before the intensity slowly grows beneath Miles and Cosey returns to smoke any remaining coating from the cassette. Miles drops a powerful solo mid-tune as the band mercifully fades to a simmer and a synth growls low under a long percussion interlude – the sustained momentum the band is operating at here is astonishing.
Michael Henderson leads the band out of the weeds looping an unknown, likely improvised riff before the septet enters one by one and Morrison bravely steps in for a solo as we achieve liftoff and the tape slowly fades out then back in as the jam runs its course to close the set.
Miles cues a mighty “Funk” to start the second set and Cosey returns to his spotlight role across the tune’s opening few minutes (Reggie Lucas took the lead guitar reins on the last couple of taped versions while Cosey inexplicably plunked away on assorted percussion). Morrison blows like his life depends on it, stop/starts be damned, holding onto sustained notes as if auditioning for the role of third guitarist. Miles begins layering a deliciously weird cluster of organ chords and ribbon controller at around 10:30, inspiring Cosey to switch over to synth for a brief stretch of interstellar travel.
The audience seems to recognize “Ife” as Miles pounds out the opening notes and Morrison settles in on tenor in the opening stretch – an interesting change of tone from the flute solo that’s stretched across the tune’s intro since its debut in late ’72. Miles steps in to state the theme during a quick pause, a synth drone is revealed as the layers are stripped away and the band ventures into a deeply funky mid-section while Miles continues to solo beautifully overtop. Cosey sends in a dispatch from the depths of the sea before Miles guides the band through a tight series of stop/starts and Mtume draws the curtain on a brief second set.
Get the tape
1. Band warming up (:19)
2. Turnaroundphrase (12:13)
3. Tune in 5 (12:26)
4. Jam/Unknown Title (9:26)
1. Funk [Prelude Pt. 1] (15:30)
2. Ife (17:17)
The final night’s tape begins with a long 5+ minute intro of the band tuning up, chattering, and setting the scene – notice the revered silence that sweeps over the crowd once Miles enters and begins testing his levels. With our champion taper set up relatively close to the stage, the sound is slightly blown out in the low end but the horns are crisp and immediate as the band launches into “Turnaroundphrase”. Morrison’s fresh blood seems to have given Miles new life and the pair spar ferociously throughout, their back and forth spilling over into “Tune in 5” – it’s hard to recall a set in which the horns were so prominent from the start.
Lucas overlays the “Willie Nelson” riff across “Tune’s” final minutes until Miles cues some whip tight pauses and sends the band into “Ife” with a few spare organ chords. Morrison’s tenor gives the intro some muscular heft as Mtume smears the drum machine across the canvas and Cosey lays into a brief solo, amazingly his first of the opening set. Lucas takes the lead for an extended turn around 7:30, then harmonizes beautifully with Miles as the two state the theme at 9 minutes in – notice how the guitarists have become *nearly* indistinguishable at this stage. Cosey returns to melt paint off the walls for the final stretch before Miles closes the set on a dime after less than 30 minutes.
The second set opens with a tight jam that sounds like a loose, half-remembered “Calypso Frelimo” – session notes refer to it as “Three Blind Mice” but the keys are identical as is the majority of the melody. Whatever the destination, Miles sounds invigorated to kick off a set in unfamiliar turf but cuts the fun short before the jam overstays its welcome. “For Dave” drifts unsteady as Cosey solos across the intro and the rhythm section wobbles but Miles rights the ship around 4 minutes in – his presence throughout both sets is incredible as he switches instrument without missing a beat and lays down some of his most solid horn work in ages.
As things get ultra spatial down the home stretch Miles cues “Funk” and the septet erupts with the precision of a studio edit. Though Miles and Morrison try their damndest, the set closer is all Cosey as the guitarist carries the tune from peak to stunning peak while the septet roils beneath then comes to a complete stop while the audience sits in stunned silence and Mtume closes out the night on congas.
A stunning tape.
1. Band warming up (:34)
2. Calypso Frelimo/Three Blind Mice (9:35)
3. For Dave (11:28)
4. Funk [Prelude Pt. 1] (16:42)
Miles Davis (trumpet, organ)
Sam Morrison (soprano, alto)
Pete Cosey (guitar, synth, percussion)
Reggie Lucas (guitar)
Michael Henderson (electric bass)
Al Foster (drums)
Mtume (conga, percussion)