7.1.1975 Avery Fisher Hall

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.

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5.28 – 6.2.1974 São Paulo

After three nights in Rio de Janeiro, the last of which was documented in a phenomenal 40-minute tape, the Miles Davis octet continued its tour of Brazil with a trio of shows at the Theatro Municipal in São Paulo. Originally booked to perform May 28 and 31, June 1 (Tuesday, Friday, Saturday), the band was forced to reschedule the Friday night gig after Miles, clearly still riding high after his 48th birthday celebration on May 26th, overindulged between shows.

I was in São Paulo, Brazil, and had been drinking all this vodka and I smoked some marijuana-which I never did, but I was having such a great time… Plus I took some Percodan and was doing a lot of coke. When I got back to my hotel room, I thought I was having a heart attack. I called the front desk and they sent up a doctor and he put me in the hospital. They had tubes up my nose and IVs attached to me. The band was scared; everyone thought I was going to die. I thought to myself. This is it. But I pulled through that one … They had to cancel the show that night and reschedule it the following night. I played and blew everybody’s mind I was playing so good.

From Miles the Autobiography, as told to Quincy Troupe

True to his word, Miles was indeed in rare form on the night of June 1st, with both sets documented in full via saxophonist Dave Liebman’s on-stage taping rig as well as in a brief B&W film clip by Brazilian filmmaker Andrea Tonacci (amazingly, the only known footage of the band in 1974). Like the tape from Rio on May 25th, Liebman’s on-stage recordings of these three nights in São Paulo make for a captivating listening experience – capturing the band at the peak of its power with an incredible depth and clarity that rivals Miles’ official live albums. Fittingly, these superb tapes are also the last to feature Liebman, who had recently recorded his excellent Drum Ode LP and would be replaced by Sonny Fortune when the octet resumed touring in late July. Essential documents by any measure.

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5.25.1974 Rio de Janeiro

Following a series of spring dates in which guitarist Dominique Gaumont evolved from “surprise guest” to a full-fledged member of the live ensemble, the Miles Davis octet began a six-date tour of Brazil with a three-night stand at the Theatro Municipal in Rio de Janeiro.

While the official tour program (courtesy of Peter Losin’s Miles Ahead) confirms the band performed nightly from Thursday, May 23-Saturday the 25th, this tape of the penultimate show is the only circulating document – but what a document it is. Recorded on-stage by saxophonist Dave Liebman, the tape combines the clarity and instrument separation of a multi-track recording with a three-dimensional quality that simply immerses you in sound – the ability to hear the squeak of Miles’ wah-wah pedal in the quieter sections is a nice little added bonus. Like the similarly recorded performances in Sau Paulo the following week, these on-stage tapes make for an exceptional listening experience.

The Miles Davis octet in Rio as photographed by Ricardo Beliel Revira. Note the cable to an on-stage microphone on the floor to the left of Miles’ wah pedal.
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1.26.1974 Shaboo Inn

It’s hard to overstate how rapidly Miles Davis fell off the cultural radar beginning in 1974. In comparison to the wealth of images and live footage covering his activity from 1969-73, the stretch between January of ’74 and his retirement in mid ’75 is documented in a smattering of photos and a brief B&W video clip. And though the year saw the release of the excellent compilation LPs, Big Fun and Get Up with It, Miles’ extraordinary live albums recorded during this period – Dark Magus in March of ’74, and Agharta and Pangaea in February of ’75 – would languish unreleased in the US until the latter half of the decade.

It didn’t help that health problems and heavy drug consumption kept his appearances unreliable and his live calendar sporadic at best. By all accounts, even the band’s first shows of the year – a multi-night stand at the Shaboo Inn in Willimantic, CT – got off to a rough start.

“His road manager called from the Willimantic Motor Inn and said, ‘Miles canceled the first night because his hairdresser didn’t show up,”‘ says former Shaboo Inn owner, David “Lefty” Foster, who felt ill at the thought of telling the crowd waiting outside the club that the show was off.

“There wasn’t one boo,” Foster says. “They just all turned around quietly and started walking to their cars, got in their cars, and they drove away. I was in shock. I couldn’t believe it.”

Hartford Courant, August 2007

With the band originally booked for January 24 & 25th (Thur & Fri), the stage recording made by Dave Liebman featured here is reportedly from a makeup show on Saturday the 26th. Though repeats of “Turnaroundphrase” and “For Dave” across both sets would suggest each hour-long segment of music was recorded on separate nights, I’m going to take Mr. Liebman at his word.

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7.10.73 Rainbow Theatre, London

Miles made two visits to London’s Rainbow Theater in the latter half of 1973, both of which were documented by the band themselves using an on-stage tape recorder. Likely intended for more of a post-show critique session than any sort of official release, the tapes offer a distinctly different listening experience than our typical audience recording – the sound has an almost 3-dimensional quality, allowing you to place each instrument in the stereo field for pure sonic immersion. Listen for Miles pounding out tempos with his high-heeled boot and the moans of ecstasy from the musicians as the groove gets particularly nasty.

Compared to the heady, searching quality of the previous month’s Japanese shows and the meandering psychedelia of the officially released Montreux gig two nights earlier, the performance here in London is focused and downright muscular. Much of that is due to Al Foster’s powerful kick, which features prominently in the mix and has a grounding effect on the whole affair. Without a doubt the beating heart of the septet.

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7.8.1973 Montreux

Propelled by a Japanese tour that saw the band more focused and exploratory than ever, the Miles Davis septet made a memorable stopover in Lebanon before storming Europe for two weeks of festivals. The brief tour resulted in no less than six tapes of varying quality, the first and highest-fidelity of which is this two-set date at the Montreux Jazz Fest – officially released in 2002 on the massive Complete Miles Davis at Montreux box. While the entire show was presumably filmed for television, only “Ife” and “Calypso Frelimo” have surfaced, though at nearly 40 minutes the video clips carry the drama of a feature film.

With Mtume and Michael Henderson the lone survivors of the septet that Miles last brought to the continent in the fall of 1971, the music on this trip is far headier and abstract than the band’s previous visit. Judging from the crowd response here in Montreux, it was bitter medicine for those who came unprepared.

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