The wealth of documentation chronicling Miles Davis’ electric period begins with an 85-minute audience reel captured at a small club in Rochester, NY on February 25, 1969. It concludes here at Lincoln Center on July 1, 1975 with a tape recorded on stage by guitarist Pete Cosey. While Miles would perform his final concert of the 1970s in Central Park on September 5 – a tape of which is yet to surface – at least one subsequent gig in Miami had been booked. When Miles canceled the date last-minute due to ill health, the concert promoter impounded the band’s gear, cauterizing the electric era and kick-starting the trumpeter’s period of seclusion that would last through the end of the decade.
“I was spritually tired of all the bullshit I had been going through for all those long years. I felt artistically drained, tired. I didn’t have anything else to say musically. I knew that I needed a rest and so I took one.
I was beginning to see pity in people’s eyes when they looked at me and I hadn’t seen that since I was a junkie. I didn’t want that. I put down the thing I loved most in life – my music – until I could pull it all back together again.”from Miles: The Autobiography
Lincoln Center was a venue Miles knew well, having recorded a trio of live albums there, including My Funny Valentine and Four & More during a February 12, 1964 date, as well as the 1972 In Concert LP documenting the barely controlled chaos of his 9-piece ensemble. Given that context, there’s undeniable poetry in Miles returning to the venue for the final recorded performance of his most creatively adventurous era.
A couple of organ chords from Miles, a few seconds of drum tuning and we’re off as “Turnaroundphrase” enters the upper orbit immediately before a quick pause leaves the music briefly suspended – a touch of dramatic flair that never grows old. Miles’ solos across the tune’s first half are remarkably powerful, chasing piercing high notes and sparring with Sam Morrison while the groove grows increasingly frantic underfoot. As Cosey leans in for a solo around 11 minutes in his tone simply saturates the tape (no complaints here), suggesting our document originated from a recording device within the guitarist’s reach.
“Tune in 5” tumbles in ferociously with Miles again puncturing the ceiling on horn but it quickly dissolves into languidity as Al Foster pulls the beat to a simmer and Cosey and Mtume share space with a kalimba and water drum duet. The mood melts nicely into “Maiysha” with Miles subtly introducing the melody on organ before Foster and Michael Henderson lock in and the journey begins. Miles seems lost in the woods across the tune’s first half, soloing timidly as if chasing a melody just out of reach and leaving his septet stranded with ultra cryptic transition cues.
Around 11:10 a change occurs. After a burst of applause, Miles returns renewed as if a new path has opened before him, soloing whisper-quiet, imperfect but almost in elegy while the band gently guides him underfoot. A gorgeous stretch.
“Maiysha” grows more heady and atmospheric as the tune draws to a close before giving way to “Untitled Original 750505” to bookend the set. A voice in the crowd shouts unintelligible as Henderson loops the bass line and Miles exits the stage to applause while gentle percussion fills the hall.
The tape cuts abruptly into the second set as Foster and Henderson lay out the “Right Off” groove, Miles pads it out with a spare, sustained organ chord and Morrison lets loose on soprano, expanding his horn’s range with an octave divider to great effect around 2 minutes in. Mtume’s drum machine swirls in the background for some added texture as the band boogies and Cosey drops an ultra fuzzed out solo just before Miles takes over for one of his best turns of the night. Blowing confidently and with superb tone as the band simmers below, Miles briefly plays off the hall’s natural echo to double his trumpet blasts as he downshifts around 9:30. Just as the band comes to a rest, Mtume launches into his namesake tune with abandon and an inexhaustible Miles returns. In a different form, his playing is pure utility, percussive and abstract, he simply colors the air, signals changes and sets up Morrison for another wild round.
“Latin” is superb here in possibly its best recorded performance. The groove is whip tight, Reggie Lucas elevates it with some beautiful comping and Miles adds an un-effected, almost throwback solo overtop as the band goads him on. After nearly an hour of soaring through the cosmos, the audience roars as the septet caps the tune with a straightforward, memorable chorus. The straight life is short-lived before Miles signals a monstrous “Ife” on mutant organ and Mtume’s wobbly drum machine clouds the air. Morrison joins in on flute while the tune assembles itself across the intro, then elevates early with a quick pause and a trail of tape echo as Miles takes the reins. As Cosey wrangles the EMS synth, Lucas riffs “Willie Nelson” over the slow groove before the guitarists swap solos gloriously across the midsection. Henderson slaps down the home stretch while Miles holds court over waves that grow from whisper quiet to a full growl, then recede as Mtume guides the set into its “Untitled Original 750505” finale.
Miles exits the stage to raucous applause as the show closer drifts along. These being our final recorded moments with the septet, the music carries an undeniable emotional heft, proceeding with the solemnity of a giant machine slowly disassembling itself as the tape gently fades out.
A beautiful thing to witness.
1. Right Off (13:20)
2. Mtume* (7:06)
3. Latin (6:49)
4. Ife (13:39)
5. Untitled Original 750505 (3:35)
*Sony Legacy released “Mtume” from this performance on the 2015 set, Miles Davis at Newport 1955–1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4.
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)