11.21.1973 Bordeaux

From Dave Liebman’s inaugural gig at the former Fillmore East in January and the addition of Lonnie Liston Smith and Pete Cosey to the lineup in the spring through a slimmed-down ultra-psychedelic tour of Japan and finally a marathon euro trip that saw the working group shapeshift its sound night after night, 1973 was as pivotal as it gets in the Miles Davis electric era. And at 32 circulating tapes (only one of which has seen an official release) it was also the most exhaustively documented year of his career.

This performance in Bordeaux marks the final night of the Newport Jazz Festival in Europe tour and the band’s last recorded gig of 1973. True to form, this tour-ending show stuns. What the audience tape lacks in fidelity, the performance recoups in abundance, playing like a highlight reel of a phenomenal year and one that continues to reveal new turf from end to end.

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11.19.1973 Rainbow Theatre, London

Miles’ fifth and final London tape of his electric period came just months after a July performance at the same venue, the historic Rainbow Theatre. November of ’73 was a memorable month at the Rainbow, with Pink Floyd laying down a complete performance of Dark Side of the Moon on the 4th, Neil Young and the Santa Monica Flyers dropping in for a tequila-soaked run through of Tonight’s the Night the following eve, and Miles’ gig on the 19th sandwiched between multi-night visits from Santana and Yes. Man, what a time to be alive.

Scene outside the Rainbow, 1973.

Like the septet’s July performance at the Rainbow, this late-November tape arrives courtesy of Dave Liebman, who documented the proceedings with an on-stage Revox and a pair of mics for a bit of welcome stereo separation. Unlike that July tape, this recording is a little dodgy – muffled just enough to make this tape more of a curiosity than a necessity. Still, with the septet operating at peak performance there’s plenty of gold here if your ears are willing to put in the work.

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11.17.1973 Rotterdam

Miles’ electric-period performances at Rotterdam’s De Doelen concert hall were regularly among the best shows of the band’s bi-annual Newport Jazz Festival in Europe tour. The November ’69 gig with the Shorter, Corea, Holland and DeJohnette lineup was a magnificent display of telepathy and the final live document of the Lost Quintet, while our tape from late October of ’71 captured Miles’ recently expanded septet in all its ragged glory and an endearingly temperamental Keith Jarrett at his most sublime.

Why Miles’ live groups frequently slayed at the venue is unknown but this document of the 1973 live ensemble may be the most thrilling Rotterdam tape of the bunch, with the band approaching a now-familiar set of tunes as though performing them for the first time. Elevating heady polyrhythms, dizzying textures, and patience over melody and brute force, the 80+ minute suite is the continental divide between the rhythmic complexity of On the Corner and the sculptural beauty of Agharta/Pangaea. Allow your ears to adjust to the fidelity of this audience tape and be rewarded – this is a stunning set.

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11.15.1973 Paris

Miles Davis’ final Paris show before his 1975 retirement held much potential. The septet had inexplicably shifted into a new gear in Belgrade the week before that carried over into remarkable shows in Bologna and Barcelona, and performing in Paris never failed to elevate Miles’ game, as evidenced by a phenomenal show the previous July. Whether he soaked up too much goodwill pre-show or was simply distracted by the spectacle, there’s something awry in Miles’ playing and demeanor that spins the septet off its axis and careening toward chaos, confusion, and occasional beauty – often a fascinating combo of all three. It’s high drama at the Palais des Sports.

Despite radio and film crews on hand to document the affair, circulating audio and video of the performance remain incomplete – still, that didn’t prevent the film from being archived by the Library of Congress. The essential Milestones YouTube archive has combined all available film clips into a single video*, and while it has the feel of a closed-circuit feed, the audio is superior to the circulating tape. The film captures Miles at his most erratic – cueing a confused-looking septet with overexaggerated gestures and generally sowing chaos with frequent atonal blasts from the Yamaha organ. The performance seems almost rudderless as a result, with the band wrestling a phenomenal set of tunes that occasionally spark brilliance but never entirely transcend.

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11.12 + 11.13.1973 Barcelona

Miles Davis’ only recorded stopover in Barcelona did not get off to a promising start. With the band’s gear held up in customs en route from Italy, the septet found the promoter’s replacement instruments unsuitable (Miles reportedly dubbed them “Spanish shit”) and canceled the first of two performances at the lavish Palau de la Musica.

Assuming the canceled gig was set for November 11th, this audience tape from the following evening captures the band reunited with their tools of destruction and well energized after an unexpected day off. And while the rough recording leaves much to be desired, the performance itself is astonishing – easily matching the form, effortless flow, and ferocity of the previous week’s Belgrade show and suggesting what appeared to be a one-off phenomenal gig was more a headlong dive into a new direction.

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11.10.1973 Bologna

After a string of soundboards and broadcast recordings it’s refreshing to be blasted by an audience tape such as this one from Bologna’s cavernous Palazzo dello Sport – a document that drops you into the center of the mayhem to remind us of just how ungodly, overwhelmingly powerful this band was in the fall of ’73.

The tape fades in on Miles doing some heavy lifting to start the set, taking his time to bend the “Turnaroundphrase” theme into new shapes and relishing the simple joy of letting loose a wild, extended horn solo. Taking a cue from the zigzag chaos that made our previous tape from Belgrade such a thriller, the band drops into “Tune in 5” just long enough for Pete Cosey to get wild before Miles guides them back into “Turnaroundphrase” while layering its melody overtop. Both Cosey and Dave Leibman seem to be caught flat footed by Miles’ vigor as they try their damndest to keep pace.

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11.7.1973 Belgrade

While a wealth of tapes document the Miles Davis septet’s tour of Europe in the fall of ’73, factual record of the band’s itinerary is full of holes. One known gap is the 4-day stretch between a phenomenal set in Vienna and this November 7th performance in Belgrade – a dream double bill alongside the Rahsaan Roland Kirk Quintet. Whatever Miles’ band was up to in the span of time between these dates remains a mystery, but its atypical approach to this set makes for one of the year’s most captivating tapes.

Grey-market travelers may be familiar with this set from the unofficial double CD-R Another Bitches Brew, where it’s paired with Miles’ 1971 performance from the same venue. It’s a relatively brief show and by all accounts the band’s only performance of the evening – another oddity given Miles’ trend toward 60- to 90-minute headlining slots.

In a set loaded with relaxed tempos, melodies and themes that dissolve mid-statement, soloists who play out of turn or simply lay out entirely, and an effortlessly fluid five-song sequence consisting of just three tunes, the band tosses its playbook out the window here in Belgrade. Like the James Brown-indebted 1969 Newport set that foreshadowed the Bitches Brew vibe, or the mysterious late 1970 show that grooves harder than rhyme or reason, this tape from Belgrade is an example of one of the inexplicable left turns that are either an anomaly or a glimpse of the future. Either way, they’re a glorious listening experience.

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11.3.1973 Vienna

Whether in tribute to the Vienesse Joe Zawinul or simply the musical pedigree of the Austrian capital, Miles’ electric-period performances in Vienna were never less than remarkable. Though his set with the Lost Quintet offered a captivating peek at the psychedelia he’d explore in early 1970, and his 1971 show was a 100+ minute heavy funk thriller, this 1973 performance at the Vienna Stadthalle tops them all.

Expertly filmed for broadcast by Austrian state television, this document is an essential look at Miles’ 1973 band in all its glory – telepathic in its precision, fearlessly adventurous, and heady beyond belief.

As the band and crew prep the stage for Miles’ arrival, a generously long intro allows us to absorb some fascinating minutiae – a tangle of cables, Pete Cosey’s table of percussion odds and ends, Reggie Lucas’ rarely-seen pedal stash. Tools expertly honed for maximum impact on an audience that looks hilariously ill-prepared for what lies ahead.

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11.2.1973 Ludwigshafen

With many stops on the 1973 Newport Jazz Festival in Europe so lavishly documented in broadcast fidelity and full-color film, shows like the septet’s November 2nd stop in Ludwigshafen are a relative anomaly: no photos have surfaced, no video circulates, and a cavernous audience tape is our only evidence. Thankfully, our taper is a good one, capturing both sets more or less in their entirety in front of a crowd that may have bitten off more than it could chew.

As if documented from the furthest reaches of the Friedrich-Ebert-Halle arena, the first set opens up with the band sounding a mile away before we zoom in for a better listen around a minute 30. Forget about focusing on individual instruments – it’s a fool’s errand with this mix. Instead, take in the band as a whole and zero in on the relentless chug of “Turnaroundphrase” as Miles gives the septet room to jam and stretch the groove at will. The long segue into “Tune in 5” is remarkable, with the band overlapping the tunes like a long cross fade before Miles drops the intensity mid solo and pushes the whole affair into a standalone jam. Dave Liebman solos beautifully atop a halting groove that opens up and gets heavy as Miles takes over before cueing “Untitled Original” on a dime. Miles’ stage direction is particularly great throughout the first set, using stop/starts with precision, and dropping segues that allow it all to flow with ease.

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11.1.1973 Berlin

The site of stunning electric gigs in 1969 and 1971, Miles returned to the Berlin Philharmonie for a pair of shows on the first of November, 1973. Recorded for radio and television by West Berlin public broadcaster, Sender Freies Berlin, the evening’s first show was released in full on the 2015 set, Miles Davis at Newport 1955–1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4 and captured in an expansive photo set by Jan Persson (excerpts below). Video of the set surfaces occasionally and I’ve included the currently available clips further down. It’s unknown if the later 10pm set was recorded, but there’s no tape in circulation.

Having built momentum across the first week of its Euro tour with standout shows in Stockholm and Copenhagen, the Miles Davis septet unleashes hell on what was surely an unsuspecting crowd of Berliners. Following an introduction by London club owner, Ronnie Scott, the band explodes into “Turnaroundphrase” with literal tape-saturating intensity as Miles stabs through the tapestry with remarkable ferocity, folded over and nearly disappearing into a comically long scarf as he channels spirits unknown through the wah pedal. Don’t bother adjusting your receiver, the entirety of this official tape remains firmly in the red thanks to either the band’s overwhelming stage volume or a little too much gain on the soundboard – any route, Sony’s choice to release such a blown-out tape is definitely a bold move.

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