6.17 – 6.20.1970 Fillmore East

Following a late April swing through the Bay Area and five hyper-productive sessions at Columbia B (Miles’ last studio dates until March ’72), the Miles Davis Septet returned to the Fillmore East for a four-night stand opening for Laura Nyro – the band’s first performances with Keith Jarrett in tow. While Miles’ previous pairing at the Fillmore East opening for Neil Young and Crazy Horse was undoubtedly more explosive, this lineup was a bit more strategic. Miles had dropped in on Nyro’s session for the New York Tindaberry LP in June of ’69, so there was a clear mutual appreciation, plus Nyro’s audience gave Miles the broad exposure he sought from these Fillmore shows.

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4.24.1970 Greek Theater, Berkeley

Just 12 days after blowing minds at the Fillmore West, the Miles Davis sextet dove back into the festival circuit with an afternoon set at the University of California Jazz Fest in Berkeley. Did the band hang out in the bay area between gigs; did they drop in and jam at Keystone Korner; maybe check out Vince Guaraldi or a Jerry Garcia/Merl Saunders gig at the Matrix? Nobody knows.

One thing’s for sure, this incomplete tape sounds as though it was recorded from deep inside the denim jacket of a squirrely undergrad. While that probably makes this one for completists only, it’s also the last document of the sextet before Keith Jarrett would join on electric organ.

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4.9 – 4.12.1970 Fillmore West

Having sized up Bill Graham’s Fillmore audience with two nights at Fillmore East the month prior, the Miles Davis sextet arrived at Fillmore West well-prepared for a four-night run opening for the Grateful Dead. They were also riding high on the release Bitches Brew, unleashed just days prior on March 30th, and by all accounts were fully intent on upstaging, outplaying, and straight-up out-psychedelicizing the Dead with nightly mind-melting sets.

Bassist Phil Lesh recalls his reaction to the April Fillmore West shows in his memoir, Searching for Sound: My Life with the Grateful Dead

As I listened, leaning over the amps with my jaw hanging agape, trying to comprehend the forces that Miles was unleashing onstage, I was thinking, “What’s the use? How can we possibly play after this? We should just go home and try to digest this unbelievable shit.

Like most of Miles’ Fillmore gigs, all four nights were recorded, with the evening of April 11th memorialized on the Columbia double LP, Black Beauty.

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3.6 + 3.7.1970 Fillmore East

Shortly after the Bitches Brew sessions, Columbia head Clive Davis introduced Miles Davis to Bill Graham, rock impresario and owner of the Fillmore East and Fillmore West. These two nights at Fillmore East were the first of five residencies Miles’ sextet/septet performed at Graham’s East & West venues through 1971 for a total of 20 sets (at least by my count). The fact that he accepted Graham’s rate of $1500 instead of his typical $5000 per performance indicates just how dedicated Miles was to expanding his audience at the time.

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2.21.1970 Ann Arbor

1970 wasn’t just a pivotal year in the Miles Davis electric timeline – it was a universe away from what the quintet was up to just 4 months prior. Three main factors contributed to the drastic change in tone: Dave Holland switched over to electric bass, Chick Corea began running the Fender Rhodes signal through both an Oberheim ring modulator and Echoplex tape delay, and Brazilian percussionist extraordinaire Airto Moreira joined the live lineup. The effect was stunning: a deeper, harder, more complex groove, and a sonic palette that would blow the minds of the headiest psychedelic warrior.

As if those changes weren’t significant enough to mark a clear change in direction, Miles added John McLaughlin on guitar for this February date at the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival. Though the soundboard tape trims “Directions” from the start of the set and the mix is pretty out of whack (“Sanctuary”, “Bitches Brew” and “Masqualero” peak out severely, so watch your headphone volume), the performance is as incredible as you’d expect.

February 21, 1970
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