Though Miles Davis performed in Philadelphia several times throughout his 1969-75 electric period, just three of those sets are known to have been documented. The first is a phenomenal late-1970 performance at the Electric Factory, featuring the only known video footage of the Keith Jarrett, Gary Bartz, Jack DeJohnette and Airto lineup. The second and third circulating tapes originate from this five-night run the septet performed at the short-lived Just Jazz in May of 1975, where the band performed nightly sets at 9 and 11pm.
The first of the Just Jazz tapes documents an unknown date from the band’s May 12-17 run, the second captures a set from the final night, both of which feature the band in full flight just days after saxophonist Sam Morrison first joined the band on-stage in Boston. For those unfamiliar with the shadowy period between the recording of Agharta and Pangaea in February and the band’s haitus in September of ’75, tapes like these from Philadelphia are a revelation. Not only is Miles’ horn playing remarkably powerful and inventive, but the septet continues to explore entirely new turf – restructuring familiar tunes, piling on new tones and electronic textures, and incorporating some of the most gorgeous melodic themes of the entire electric era.
This is a brief period that produced some truly exceptional music. Overlook it at your own peril.
Following some scene-setting thick air, “Funk” drops in hard with great contrasting rhythmic stabs from the guitarists and long organ clusters from Miles before he switches over to horn for a long intro solo. Health trouble be damned, his chops are in impressive shape here. With less than a few gigs under his belt, Morrison handles the mid section like a monster, plowing through as the band bends and shapes the tune’s structure underfoot. Cosey takes the lead around 12 minutes in, building slowly to a climax as the crowd screams approval over the din.
Miles wrestles control down the home stretch, adding punctuation with a razor-sharp pause before switching over to organ for a long segue into “Ife”. The track kicks in unbelievably heavy, with Cosey doubling Michael Henderson’s four-note bass riff on fuzz guitar before Morrison’s opening solo collapses into a sea of tape echo and opens up to a serene midsection while Miles solos over an unsettling backdrop. Listen to how Mtume weaves a clattering drum machine into the tapestry as the momentum builds, briefly mimics the arhythmic beatbox as he switches over to congas, then propels the groove as he aligns with the tempo. A true master.
Cosey and Reggie Lucas double team down the homestretch – the former on horror show synth and heavily effected guitar, the latter looping an evolving riff as the duo peak, then recede to stunned silence from the crowd. Miles solos deftly as the tune limps to a close before Henderson introduces a melodic bass riff that launches into “Untitled Original 750505”, its beauty contrasted with a swell of demented organ chords from Miles. The band vamps briefly on the palette cleanser until dropping the curtain just before liftoff.
Get the tape
1. Band warming up (0:31)
2. Funk [Prelude Pt. 1] (19:38)
3. Ife (19:37)
4. Untitled Original 750505 (3:40)
*Recording originates from an unknown night during the band’s May 12-17 run
The May 17th tape is recorded from a suitable distance from the band, and as a result, is notably cleaner and more balanced than the previous night’s document. The identical running order also makes comparing the sets an easy task, but frankly, they’re equally astonishing tapes.
The band takes its time settling into “Funk”, stretching luxuriously as the groove takes shape before Miles enters, tentative at first before dropping the mute and going all in. The alternate seesaw groove the septet briefly settles into around 6:20 is a new twist, and the band hangs onto it for a while here. Morrison solos almost like a guitarist, notably through the break at 12:35 as he warps his tone through subtle use of the wah-wah – a trick Miles certainly dug. While the groove simmers, Cosey begins using the synth beautifully beginning around 15:35 to create textural washes as Miles solos overtop, bringing them into the mix in waves as the intensity builds. Truly a gorgeous stretch of music.
Miles begins pulling the band into the orbit of “Ife” around 22 minutes in as a heckler seems to snap the septet out of what was shaping up to be an exquisite transition. Undeterred, they waste no time getting stratospheric, with Cosey making ultra heady use of the synth across the tune’s first half as he fills every crevice with Sextant colors. The groove truly elevates around 11:30 in before the band briefly shakes the four-note riff and Cosey solos ferociously to close the tune.
Our heckler returns as the band briefly marinates on a gorgeous “Untitled” to close the set – leaving a disappointed old-timer shouting insults into the void. Poor sap.
Get the tape
1. Band warming up (1:16)
2. Funk [Prelude Pt. 1] (22:46)
3. Ife (14:29)
4. Untitled Original 750505 (3:36)
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)