11.1.1974 Allen Theatre, Cleveland

Despite health issues that kept his creative output minimal in the latter half of the year, Miles booked a fairly hefty schedule of live dates in November of 1974. And who could blame him? With a trio of phenomenal guitarists in the lineup and saxophonist Sonny Fortune now a full-fledged member of his working group, studio material from the period proves the Miles Davis octet was white hot.

As evidenced by this relatively unheralded tape from Cleveland, rumors of Miles’ ill-health seem to have been a bit exaggerated, with both the bandleader and his ensemble operating at peak form.

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8.2 + 8.3.1974 Paul’s Mall

The seven-month stretch between Miles’ triumphant run of shows in Brazil and the Japanese gigs in early 1975 that would birth Agharta and Pangea is one of the darker recesses of his electric period. Though the octet’s activity remained steady with dates throughout the eastern U.S., the live tapes are few and far between, many capturing only portions of the performances in less-than-ideal fidelity. Thankfully, there remains enough documentation to trace the evolution of the band that would emerge in Tokyo as the unassailable colossus that crystallized the final chapter of Miles’ electric era.

These tapes from Paul’s Mall are notable mainly for the inflection point they document – with saxophonist/flutist Dave Liebman having left the group after the Brazil dates, Sonny Fortune was effectively auditioned on the bandstand during the octet’s multi-night stand at the Boston venue. Our man got the gig and remained with Miles through February of ’75. The tapes are also curiously devoid of third guitarist, Dominique Gaumont, who’s inaudible on the August 2nd performance and failed to join the band on stage for the 3rd, providing a glimpse of the seven-man Agharta / Pangea lineup in its most embryonic form.

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4.16-21.1974 Keystone Korner

In the weeks following the pivotal Carnegie Hall gig that produced Dark Magus, the Miles Davis octet headed out on a brief and sparsely documented tour culminating in a six-night run at Keystone Korner in San Francisco. While a recording of the band’s April 19th performance at Keystone is rumored to exist but does not currently circulate, this rough audience tape from an unknown night in the North Beach run provides a rare glimpse of a band in a transitional state with the recent addition of guitarist Dominique Gaumont.

Like the firmly in-the-red late 1972 shows that featured most of the musicians from the On the Corner era sessions, the music documented here has the feel of a band searching for new land amid its own cacophony. Still, Pete Cosey and Gaumont engage in an entertaining turf war as “Turnaroundphrase” reaches a fevered pitch to start the set, chasing Miles’ horn before trading jabs and tripped out solos while Michael Henderson holds the line and Miles clouds it all with atonal blasts from the Yamaha organ.

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1.27.1974 Massey Hall, Toronto

After burning down the Shaboo Inn with a sprawling pair of sets the night before, the Miles Davis septet made the 500-mile journey from Willimantic, CT for a Sunday night performance at Toronto’s legendary Massey Hall. Like the previous night’s club gig, the septet leveled the audience in the cavernous theater with a pair of sets very much in the vein of what it brought to Europe the previous fall, but here in Toronto the band’s opening and closing sets are universes unto themselves. The first, a dead-on heavy funk blowout, the second, a dark, meandering, heady epic with more than a few bizarre subplots.

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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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11.10.1973 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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11.2.1973 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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10.29.1973 Copenhagen

Two days removed from a remarkable TV broadcast from Stockholm, Miles returned to the Tivoli Concert Hall in Copenhagen for his final concert from the stage on which he’d performed many times since his 1960 tour with his first great quintet. While his 1969 gig with the Lost Quintet was documented in stunning full color and a superb radio broadcast captured his short-lived 1971 band in all its Drunken Master glory, neither performance really showcased either electric ensemble in full flight. As luck would have it, this rough and somewhat rare audience recording from October of ’73 tops them all.

Tivoli Concert Hall in 2018.

With limited historical info available on the tour’s logistics, it’s unknown why the band would perform two sets on certain stops and a single set on others, but the audience here in Copenhagen was treated to the best of both – a hulking, 90-minute slab of music with the full drama and focused intensity of a single, unbroken set. Remarkably, though the document’s awash in reverb, the mix is a great one, with every instrument identifiable and Reggie Lucas’ constant wah clear as a bell. A brief snipped of chatter from our taper sets the scene before “Turnaroundphrase” explodes out of the speakers and Miles begins an extraordinary (and extraordinarily long) solo. A few impeccable stop/starts prove the band is both technically and energetically down for the fight, while the intensity remains damn near overwhelming until a cooldown mid-“Tune in 5” brings some relief.

An assault of tape splices and digital glitches interrupts the simmering groove that stretches across the first half of “Ife”, chopping brilliant solos from Liebman (on flute), Miles and Pete Cosey into music concrète. (I’ll re-post improved audio if I’m fortunate enough to find it). Eventually smoothing out and settling into a luxurious pace, “Ife” sprawls without meandering before reaching a logical conclusion and pivoting into “Untitled Original 730424c” with the precision of a studio edit. In an shockingly stacked set, “Calypso Frelimo” holds all the gold here, with Miles filling the air with beautiful atmospherics on organ before playfully sparring with Liebman on flute. Chaos builds towards the tune’s back half, but never spirals out of control before stumbling into an astonishing groove around 19 minutes in that’s pure Can and unlike anything we’ve heard from a Miles electric lineup.

Given the majority of Miles’ concerts in Copenhagen were recorded by Danish state media, it’s hard to imagine a more pro document of this show isn’t languishing in the vault. If that’s the case, it’s time to open the gates – this is a peak electric period performance.

Get the tape
1. Band warming up/chatter (:43)
2. Turnaroundphrase (17:34)
3. Tune in 5 (12:51)
4. Ife (21:50) [glitchy intro clears up around 12:00]
5. Untitled Original 730424c (12:32)
6. Calypso Frelimo (23:21)

Miles Davis (trumpet, organ)
Dave Liebman (soprano, tenor, flute)
Pete Cosey (guitar, percussion)
Reggie Lucas (guitar)
Michael Henderson (electric bass)
Al Foster (drums)
Mtume (conga, percussion)

7.17.1973 Verona

On the heels of a performance in Pescara that saw the band take avant funk into some truly uncharted turf, the Miles Davis septet rolled into Verona for another open-air show at an ancient Roman theater on the bank of the Adige. Though outdoor sets were surely a welcome break from the arenas and staid concert halls to which the band had grown accustomed, a handful of venues seemed woefully unprepared for the volume coming off the stage as evidenced by this uncharacteristically uneven pair of sets in Verona.

Despite a dodgy stage mix and jagged grooves that often fail to coalesce it’s impressive to hear the band soldier on through a gig that’s clearly a struggle from the outset. The show’s also an odd one for Miles, who abandons the organ for reasons unknown and sounds downright uninspired on trumpet throughout. A dark night for sure, but not without its bright spots.

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7.16.1973 Pescara

The back stretch of the Miles Davis septet’s Japan > Euro summer tour brought them to the Adriatic coastal town of Pescara for an outdoor festival at the Parco delle Naiadi. Five days removed from a technically challenging but fascinating gig in Paris, the band followed a Keith Jarrett solo set with a truly Jekyll & Hyde performance – the first half a relatively straightforward slab of heavy funk followed by a two-song closing set that’s easily the most gripping, avant-garde 58 minutes of music we’ve heard from an electric Miles lineup.

The audience tape was presumably recorded stage left in close proximity to Reggie Lucas’ amplifier, pushing his constantly wah’d rhythm guitar to the front of the mix. Though a bit overpowering at times, it reveals how crucial this dual-guitar lineup was to the band’s framework, as well as the less-than-subtle James Brown influence that lurked just below the surface.

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