5.2.1973 Los Angeles

Before wrapping the Spring ’73 tour and trimming his 10-piece working group to a tidy septet, Miles brought his ensemble to Los Angeles for a pair of compulsory industry gigs – a brief set taped for ABC’s In Concert television series, and this appearance at Columbia Records’ A Week to Remember all-star event hosted by label head, Clive Davis.

“There were 21 acts altogether. Clad in a white suit and white patent leather shoes, Clive mixed and matched, Bruce Springsteen with the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Loudon Wainwright with Miles Davis, and so forth. In R&B, he presented Earth, Wind and Fire, Billy Paul, and the Staple Singers; in country, Lynn Anderson and Charlie Rich; in classical music, Anthony Newman. Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor were the emcees. Clive had the concerts filmed so that highlights could be shown at CBS Records’ sales convention in July.”

Account from “Hit Men: Power Brokers and Fast Money Inside the Music Business” by Frederic Dannen

Though the whole affair was well documented, including a few iconic photos of the Miles and the short-lived ensemble, all that circulates is a 5-minute edit from this rare VHS promo. Open the archive already, Sony.

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5.1.1973 Santa Monica

Following a brief east-coast run that included stunning gigs in Greensboro and Washington D.C., the Miles Davis 10-piece returned to California for a stop at the UC Berkeley Jazz Fest and a pair of gigs in greater Los Angeles, the first of which was this performance at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium filmed for ABC’s In Concert television series.

It’s unclear if the band performed a full-length set but the 12-minute edit broadcast on May 23, 1973 is likely the source of this audiotape. And though the video hasn’t been seen in decades, a few choice photos from the date offer a rare glimpse of Miles performing while seated with his foot in a cast – a remnant of his car crash the previous fall.

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4.13.1973 Washington D.C.

The day after a remarkable performance in Greensboro, North Carolina, the Miles Davis tentet made the 5-hour journey up to Washington D.C. for a pair of sets on the campus of Howard University. The resulting audience tape is the most complete live document of this gargantuan ensemble, including the entire first set and all but the tail end of the second. In many many ways, it also captures this lineup at its best.

Presuming our taper was seated stage right and near the front, bass and organ positively dominate the mix – offering a revealing glimpse of every peak and valley Lonnie Liston Smith traversed across both sets. Knowing a little more about how the Astral Traveler approached these performances with Miles, it’s quite a treat.

I had to figure out something! I had to be me and that’s what he wanted. Miles was one of the few leaders who’d get mad if you didn’t come up with something new and creative every night.

Lonnie Liston Smith

First set

“Turnaroundphrase” settles into its post at the start of the set, completely in the red from the outset and somehow growing in intensity as it progresses. Pete Cosey transcends the mix with a wild solo, Miles throws in quick piercing stab and “Tune in 5” simply appears – an incredible transition in a performance loaded with them. Miles and Smith team up to get ultra spacey while the tension recedes, rebuilds, then disassembles over and over with different instruments taking the lead when the tide goes out. A heady percussion segue leads into an impressively tight “Black Satin”, with Miles no longer toying with the “one” like we heard in Greensboro and Dave Liebman dropping a ferocious solo.

Smith shifts into a new gear beneath Cosey as the band transitions back into “Tune in 5”, full of full stop/start tension release over which Miles adds the “Black Satin” theme in the quieter moments. You can hear Miles toying with the concept of playing tunes simultaneously, but it’s yet to take full flight. After 40 minutes that likely peeled paint from the walls of the auditorium, a placid percussion jam closes the set.

First set
1. Turnaroundphrase (11:47)
2. Tune in 5 (11:04)
3. Black Satin (10:33)
4. Tune in 5 (10:00)

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“It Sounds Like We’re Floating”: A Conversation with Lonnie Liston Smith

As jazz became a vehicle for spiritual enlightenment in the mid-1960s and soaked up elements of soul, funk and psychedelia throughout the 70s, the hands of Lonnie Liston Smith wove a common thread across some of the greatest recordings of the era. Unobtrusive, deep in the pocket, and always in sync with its surroundings, his work on the acoustic piano and later, the Fender Rhodes, elevated recordings by Rahsaan Roland Kirk, the fertile late-’60s impulse LPs of Pharoah Sanders, a wealth of Flying Dutchman sessions across the ’70s, and of course, his own staggering catalog of albums with his band, the Cosmic Echoes.

Ironically, it’s his brief but fruitful time with Miles Davis that’s most often lost in the shuffle. From his first session in June of 1972 that produced more than half of the material for On the Corner through a bi-coastal US tour in the spring of 1973, Smith was a working member of Miles’ band, albeit behind an instrument with which he was largely unfamiliar – the Yamaha YC-45D organ. Still, what Lonnie Liston Smith brought to Miles was the same “cosmic” sensibility that imbues everything he touches.

Shortly after sharing a recording of the band’s April 5, 1973 performance in Seattle, Lonnie Liston Smith contacted me with a simple message: “…I have to tell you the story of what Miles said to me one day when I first met him.” Not long after, I was on the phone with the Astral Traveler himself. Here is what he shared.

On the Fender Rhodes

The first time I played the Fender Rhodes electric piano was when Pharoah Sanders and I were recording Thembi in California. Up until that time I only played the grand piano. Everybody’s unpacking. Pharoah’s unpacking his horn and Cecil McBee’s unpacking the bass, Clifford Jarvis is setting up the drums. Well, you know, you don’t have to set up the grand piano so I saw this instrument in the corner and asked the engineer what it was, and he said, “that’s the Fender Rhodes.”

So I walked over, start messing with the knobs, start playing, and the Creator just gave me this song and everybody ran over – Pharoah, the engineer, and they said, “Oh man, that’s beautiful. We gotta record this right now – what are you gonna call it?” I was studying astral projection where you know, you leave your body and float all over the world.

So I said “it sounds like we’re floating, let’s call it ‘Astral Traveling’”

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4.12.1973 Greensboro

Following a sweep across the northwestern US in early April, Miles returned to the east coast with new guitarist Pete Cosey in tow for a pair of mid-month live dates and a quick, still unreleased April 24 session at Columbia’s Studio B. This April 12 audience recording from Aycock Auditorium on the campus of UNC-Greensboro is the longest tape of 1973 thus far, capturing a healthy portion of both sets and featuring the recorded debut of both “Turnaroundphrase” and “Tune in 5”. It also provides the first clear evidence of the band’s more experimental set structure, with both “Tune in 5” and “Black Satin” reprised throughout the performance – a practice Miles would use to great effect into 1975.

The tape itself is a rough one, with plenty of digital artifacts throughout the first 12 minutes, dropouts here and there, and some unfortunate splices at moments of high drama. Still, this short-lived ten-piece band is one of the more thrilling lineups of Miles’ electric period, so let your ears settle in and be rewarded.

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4.5.1973 Seattle

Miles Davis demanded three things of Pete Cosey when the guitarist joined his band in the spring of 1973:

The first was to move upfront, because the first day I went to play with him I set my table up at the back near the rhythm section. He said “No, no – I want you up front.” The other thing was that he asked me to turn up [the volume]. I was always used to blending and having a balance. I didn’t know what he expected in terms of going over the top with the sound. So when he asked me to turn up, that’s all he had to say! From then on I was in the t-zone [in your face]. One time, one of the guys said “Congratulations man, I’ve never heard music that loud. You actually made my teeth jangle!” And the third thing he said was: “Sit there and look black!”

Pete Cosey interview from “The Last Miles”

This brief audience tape from Seattle’s Paramount Theater captures a slice of Cosey’s debut as a member of Miles’ working band – a crucial document if there ever was one. Following a pair of shows in Vancouver and Portland, Miles added the guitarist to a lineup that now included a pre-Cosmic Echoes Lonnie Liston Smith on organ; a short-lived ten-piece band that was the trumpeter’s largest working group since his early Birdland dates with Charlie Parker. Despite its size, the band was remarkably nimble – allowing the music to breathe and evolve with ease as the front line overlaid solos that flowed into and out of one another along an unbroken thread. Just masterful stuff from a criminally under-documented live ensemble.

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1.12 + 1.13.1973 Village East

Miles Davis reached both a personal and critical nadir in the fall of 1972. Returning to New York following a brief but thrilling tour with a revamped nine-piece ensemble, he totaled his Lamborghini Muira and broke both legs in a gruesome, cocaine-strewn accident on the West Side Highway. The same week, his On the Corner LP was released to near revulsion from the music press. Yet, in the throes of his most fertile creative period since the spring of 1970, Miles refused to end the year a broken man – his studio sessions continued unabated from November into the following spring, often with the bandleader hobbled on crutches.

Miles would also make several changes to his live ensemble across the first half of 1973, including swapping out saxophonists, adding guitarists, ditching the tabla and sitar, and burning through keyboardists before taking over organ duties himself. This two-night stand at the Village East Theater (formerly Bill Graham’s Fillmore East) captures the 1973 band in the first stage of its evolution, with Dave Liebman on flute and saxophone in place of Carlos Garnett. Captured on grainy film and a passable audience tape, the sets feature a mustached Miles in incredible form, miraculously unencumbered by crutches or cast, and engaging with an intensity he hadn’t shown in years.

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10.1.1972 Palo Alto

While Miles spent the spring and summer of 1972 recording his On the Corner LP and much of the material that would define the second phase of his electric period, documentation of his live activity from January through early September is cloudy at best. A brief fall tour yielded a relative abundance of riches, including a pair of radio broadcasts, a double live LP, and a couple of rough, but enjoyable audience tapes, one of which captures this performance at the Frost Amphitheater in Palo Alto. A tape rumored to have been recorded by Wally Heider Studios is yet to surface, making this audience tape the band’s final live document of 1972.

The unusual double bill of Miles’ nine-piece ensemble and cosmic cowboys, New Riders of the Purple Sage was the last show at the venue until late 1974 – Stanford officials suspended all concerts after pre-show fistfights and gate crashers overwhelmed Santa Clara County Sheriff’s deputies. By contrast, the crowd sounds fairly tame and the band drops one of its most restrained sets of the tour, so the vibe had clearly mellowed by this point in the afternoon.

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9.29.1972 Lincoln Center

After little more than two weeks on the road with his re-tooled live ensemble, Miles returned to Lincoln Center to record the double LP titled simply, In Concert. Though it lacks the captivatingly in-the-red moments that made the group’s Ann Arbor set such a thriller, the pristine sound and evenly balanced mix of this official release make it easily the best live document of Miles’ 1972 working group. Recorded days prior to the October 11th release of the On the Corner LP, In Concert is a companion piece if there ever was one, from the albums’ impenetrable textures and unrelenting momentum on down to their complementary cover illustrations.

Much like Miles Davis at Fillmore, Black Beauty, and well… all of his live albums from the electric period, In Concert included no info on personnel or recording dates, labeling the LPs “Foot Fooler” (the evening’s first set) and “Slickaphonics” (second set) in lieu of proper song titles. According to Mtume, it was all part of Miles’ grand plan.

“He had pictures of all these black characters — the pimp, the Panther, the prostitute. There’s a white band in there and if you look at the drummer’s foot, it says “Foot Foolers.” That was Miles saying, “I really got the funk.” He put the critics to work; he didn’t want to put anyone’s name on the LP, so the critics wouldn’t even know whose music it was.”

Mtume – The Fader, June 2005

Whatever Miles’ intent behind the album’s packaging, the music from both sets at Lincoln Center absolutely rips.

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9.14 – 9.17.1972 Paul’s Mall

Legendary Boston venues, Jazz Workshop and Paul’s Mall shared an address at 733 Boylston St., with both clubs situated comfortably in the basement of the Cinema 733 theater. While Miles performed with some regularity at the Jazz Workshop from the mid-to-late sixties into the summer of 1971, it was likely the sheer volume of his nine-piece band that precipitated a move across the hallway to the more rock-centric Paul’s Mall beginning in September of ’72. He would return to Paul’s for a few more multi-night stands before his 1975 hiatus, leaving a trail of bootlegs in his wake.

Fresh off its sternum-rattling live debut at the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival, the nonet settled in for this seven-night subterranean run the week of September 11-17 (Tuesday through Sunday for those keeping track). Two tapes from these performances are in circulation: the first is a superb WCBN-FM radio broadcast from the evening of September 14, the other is a blown-out audience recording from an undated set later in the week. If you need just one tape from these shows, make it the radio broadcast – there are a few moments of brilliance in the audience tape, but it’s a pretty rough listen.

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