While traversing the continent on the five-week Newport Jazz Festival in Europe package tour, the Miles Davis septet presumably made a few detours to perform one-off headlining shows. An October 18 performance in Frankfurt appears to have been one (no circulating tape from that show, unfortunately), and this October 22 gig at the Neue Stadthalle in Dietikon Switzerland was likely another.
Both of the evening’s sets were broadcast on Swiss radio with superb engineering by Klaus Koenig, whose work resulted in one of the best aural documents of the 21-date Euro tour – even more impressive considering the organizers hired a Steinway grand piano in preparation for an acoustic show and the band performed no soundcheck.
Jack DeJohnette was the last remaining member of the Lost Quintet to exit Miles’ orbit when he and percussionist Airto Moriera left the working group in the fall of 1971. Though DeJohnette would return to the band for a few shows toward the end of the year, Miles wasted no time in turning his drummer’s departure into another pivot point in his electric evolution – one that would see him make a near-complete abandonment of traditional jazz structures in favor of rhythmic maximalism, repetition and a continued voyage into uncharted turf.
Backfilling DeJohnette and Airto was Bitches Brew alum, percussionist Don Alias, as well as percussionist James Mtume Forman and 19-year-old drummer Leon “Ndugu” Chancler, both of whom Miles had seen backing Freddie Hubbard at a Los Angeles gig earlier in the spring. The effect of three percussionists was stunning: a dense carpet of rhythm and sound that was often impenetrable, heady, and frequently disorienting. The rhythmic assault complexity that defined Miles’ music through On the Corner, Dark Magus,Agharta, et al. began with this lineup.
Miles introduced his updated ensemble with an extensive 21-date all-star touring production dubbed the “Newport Jazz Festival in Europe” that included the Ornette Coleman Quintet, Duke Ellington’s Orchestra, and the Preservation Jazz Band, among many others. The very same tour on which his Lost Quintet would embark in 1969 shortly after the Bitches Brew sessions. As on that 1969 tour, the 1971 European shows were frequently broadcast on radio and television, leaving a trove of quality audio and video in their wake (17 total tapes!).
Miles played his final set of career-redefining Fillmore shows May 6-9, 1971 at Bill Graham’s Fillmore West. Anticipating the emergence of stadium and arena gigs that would define the 1970s, Graham closed his Fillmore East on June 27, followed by the Fillmore West on July 4, 1971. Though it’s presumed both Columbia and the Fillmore recorded the sextet’s four shows opening for the Elvin Bishop Group and Mandrill, only this May 7 soundboard recording is in circulation. Often overshadowed by the many recordings the band made at Fillmores East and West the previous year, this tape easily holds its own as the most ultra-modern of the bunch.
The Miles Davis sextet began 1971 much in the same way it closed out the previous year: with a steady, albeit scarcely documented run of live performances. And though 1971 saw the release of the Tribute to Jack Johnson LP in February and Live/Evil in November, Miles made no studio recordings for the first time since 1964, and there’s just one official live release documenting this pivotal year.
Despite the paltry “official” record, there remains plenty of evidence of the exceptional music Miles’ live band produced in 1971, beginning with these audience recordings from Lennie’s on the Turnpike in Peabody, Massachusets.
Situated on Route 1 north of Boston, the original Lennie’s on the Turnpike was a fairly remote but well-respected club that hosted live music from 1959 until it was gutted by a fire in May of 1971. Owner Lennie Sogoloff opened a new location shortly after but eventually closed up shop in September 1972. The club hosted the sextet for a pair of residencies in 1971: a seven-night run from January 11 to 17 (photos from those dates above), and a series of four shows on March 11-14, from which these recordings originate.