As his health continued to deteriorate and drug dependency led to canceled tours, missed dates, and uneven gigs, Miles Davis began his retreat from the stage in the summer of 1975. Following remarkable multi-night stands in Philadelphia and Boston in May, Miles performed just a handful of dates from June through September, all of which took place in New York City. This cache of tapes from an early June, five-night stand at the Bottom Line marks the beginning of that abrupt end.
As evidenced in those tapes from Philadelphia and Boston, the Miles Davis septet remained in peak form – expanding on the heady abstract elements and telepathic interplay that came to fruition on its tour of Japan months earlier. Against all odds, Miles himself was performing with a level of vigor and engagement he hadn’t displayed in years and was writing material with a renewed focus on melody and pure beauty.
Despite a clear eye toward its next evolution, these tapes from the Bottom Line reveal the sort of schizophrenic nature of a Miles Davis gig in mid-1975. Beset by technical issues and a distracted bandleader, the first night’s sets are often messy and uneven, and though full of high points they never quite achieve liftoff. The second night’s tape captures a two-set show that’s among the most cohesive, incredible 90 minutes of electric Miles you’ll hear. A journey that remains richly dramatic through to its final notes.
“Funk” opens deep in the woods, guitars chugging, the drum machine clattering overhead and the septet grooving heavy. Miles finally enters a few minutes in, his horn unadorned and powerful – it’s almost shocking to hear the pure, unaffected trumpet as if a circa-1970 Miles has re-emerged from years of cold storage. After he and Sam Morrison trade off across the tune’s opening stretch, the tune dissolves into a tight percussion-heavy vamp, deconstructing itself until Mtume stands alone amid the silent audience, and a man near the taper hollers, “Get that, get that!” “Latin” debuts with the band on shaky ground, chasing Miles on the changes and generally meandering until the chorus takes hold around five minutes in, but when it hits it’s mighty … if only briefly. “Untitled Original 750505” is littered with squalls of feedback as Henderson casually loops the opening riff and Al Foster and Mtume make time beneath, but technical ghosts cut the set short before the tune takes flight and a stage announcement tells the tale: “We had a problem with one of the amps here. We’re gonna fix it. We’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Miles carves out a long “For Dave” intro on organ to begin the second set and Pete Cosey settles in for a gorgeous solo the moment the band joins in, stretching luxuriously and leaving long sustained notes to linger as if stretching time itself. The focus narrows and fades to a near hush as Miles enters on horn, wah firmly underfoot, gently expanding as the percussion builds until he switches over to organ to guide the band over the waves as Morrison solos overtop. Miles segues into “Ife” abruptly, forcing the band to gather its bearings while Morrison’s playful intro holds the spotlight. A few unsteady pauses and a couple unfortunate tape splices rob us of the bulk of the tune just as Cosey takes flight and we’re heaved into “Right Off”. The tune fails to gather steam under perfunctory solos from Morrison, Cosey, and Miles (though the crowd seems to dig it) before giving way to a long set-closing outro from Mtume. A shaky start at the Bottom Line.
A clumsy organ intro from Miles clouds “Miaysha” as the band lurches into the late show. Technical issues continue to plague Miles’ horn, pushing his amplified wah solos far to the background. “If that shit don’t work… snatch that shit off and get down for real‘” suggests a voice in the crowd. As the band switches to the tune’s groove section, Cosey and Lucas levitate with simultaneous solos, sending the band to a glorious early set peak before Miles interjects on organ to reduce the boil to a simmer. The bandleader’s direction feels heavy-handed throughout “Maiysha”, as he squashes dynamics to a minimum and generally reins in a band that’s clearly in the mood to unleash hell.
“Latin” kicks off with far more promise than its early set debut, with Foster and Cosey entering strong and Miles soloing across the mid section with confidence before guiding the band into a chorus that hints at its final form though doesn’t quite nail it. Things finally begin to fall into place as the band eases into “Untitled Original 740419” with Miles quoting “Hip Skip” overtop a ferocious groove – one of the few points at which the septet truly goes off, though Miles keeps things in check with pauses throughout, gradually building waves of drama. The band peaks as Morrison delivers a solo toward the tune’s tail end and the slow descent into “Untitled Original 750505” begins. Pure late-night mood, this is one of the most successful run-throughs of the slow jam thus far, with a bit of off-mic truth just as the document fades to a close: “Jimi Hendrix should get the recognition for this…it’d be a good soundtrack.”
Get the tape
Early Show, First Set
1. Funk [Prelude Pt. 1] (13:17)
2. Latin (incomplete) (6:23)
3. Untitled Original 750505 (5:15)
Early Show, Second Set
1. For Dave (16:15)
2. Ife (7:01)
3. Right Off (10:07)
Late Show, First Set
1. Maiysha (13:17)
2. Latin (6:20)
3. Untitled Original 740419 (12:38)
4. Untitled Original 750505 (4:18)
Kicking off the second night with “Turnaroundphrase” puts the band back on familiar turf and they lock in immediately. Though the tape sends the horns and guitars out front in the mix, the rhythm section chugs like a singular organism underfoot, gaining intensity as Miles and Cosey grade jabs before pivoting on a dime into and out of ultra-dense slices of “Willie Nelson” and “Tune in 5” – it’s hard to recall the last time a set began at this level of peak intensity.
A gentle segue into “For Dave” takes a new turn when Foster drops into double time on the kit, giving the brooding epic some renewed heft. Lucas colors the backdrop with a few gorgeously strange chords as Miles begins his solo, Henderson tightens up and an incredible groove develops around four minutes in. As the tune gradually disintegrates across the midsection, Miles toys with the “Calypso Frelimo” organ intro, Henderson briefly dubs out his bass with a bit of tape echo, and the intensity ebbs and flows with remarkable focus. With Foster’s steady pulse the band achieves a Can-like minimalist propulsion and Miles dives in head first with a powerful, nimble solo. The transition into “Untitled Original 750505” feels second nature and once Miles gets a few gnarled organ chords out of his system, the tune’s beauty is revealed just long enough to cap the set.
Miles takes his time introducing “Funk” with some greasy chords from the Yamaha. “That’s a funky organ. Funky as a motherfucker” is heard just off-mic. Henderson’s bass is fuzzed beyond recognition as the tune reaches cruising altitude and Miles settles in for a long horn solo. Tape splices down the back stretch reveal glimpses into mini universes until the tape gathers its bearings and Miles draws the septet into “Ife” with a familiar organ riff. Foster’s beat is heavy from the start and contrasts beautifully with the headier elements in the mix, carving out another new road for the longtime set centerpiece. Following a powerful solo from Miles over a near-unrecognizable stretch, Cosey and Lucas set off an excursion for the ages with the former on kalimba and synth while the latter shreds overtop. Once the dust clears, another extraordinary minimal groove takes shape for the tune’s final minutes with the crowd hanging on the faintest turn.
“Maiysha” is pure drama from the start, dropping to a hush as Miles states the opening melody and trails of tape echo punctuate the pauses. Morrison’s solo in the second “verse” is headed in a beautiful direction until Miles takes the lead and ratchets up the intensity, breaking the spell. Henderson begins looping the “Right Off” riff via an unseen cue from Miles, the band jumps in as if by studio edit and Morrison bridges his Ife solo into the new tune – an incredible trick. Cosey goes all in as “Right Off” gets full choogle down the home stretch but a quick fade draws the curtain before we can glimpse the conclusion of this phenomenal set.
Get the tape
Early Show, First Set
1. Turnaroundphrase > Willie Nelson > Tune in 5 > Turnaroundphrase (14:02)
2. For Dave (16:26)
3. Untitled Original 750505 (4:31)
Early Show, Second Set
1. Funk [Prelude Pt. 1] (10:13)
2. Funk (concluded w/splices) (3:26)
3. Ife (17:25)
4. Maiysha (8:40)
5. Right Off (5:11)
Our recording opens well into “Latin” with the taper presumably a good distance from the stage – all instruments are audible, but the tape has the feel of a background conversation. Still, it’s clear the band has made significant progress on the new tune and nails the flurry of changes toward the back half. Though the date of this tape isn’t fully known, the familiarity the septet seems to have with its structure suggests it’s from the latter half of the Bottom Line run.
Morrison dominates much of “Mtume” as the band roils beneath – his confidence is off the charts considering he’s been with the band just a month at this point. A wave of feedback overwhelms as the saxophonist wraps around 10:10, making for a frustrating few minutes of listening. Press on or fast forward to around 20 minutes in (no judgment) where the hum lifts, Miles begins his solo in “Untitled Original 740419” and gently guides the septet into “Zimbabwe” to the crowd’s delight. The tune’s final recorded run-through is superb despite the fidelity, with Miles in fine form as he and the band slowly build momentum with remarkable patience until a Cosey solo sends it boiling over. Naturally, a tape splice robs us of the climax, but another wave follows when we fade back in and things get beautifully atmospheric.
Just as Foster launches us into “Turnaroundphrase” the tape begins to slowly malfunction across the remaining minutes. If your ears are willing to put in the work it’s an incredible final stretch – dig the strange coordinated theme the band drops into around 37:20 before downshifting into a sultry half-time groove just as the spool runs dry.
Get the tape (Single file w/no track indexes)
1. Latin (incomplete) (4:09)
2. Mtume (incomplete) (10:02)
3. Untitled Original 740419 (10:13)
4. Zimbabwe* (incomplete) (10:13)
5. Turnaroundphrase (incomplete) (8:17)
*Final recorded performance
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)