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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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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3.30.1974 Carnegie Hall

By all accounts, Miles’ hometown gigs were often beset by weird vibes, strange guests, and high drama, all of which coalesced here at Carnegie Hall for the live recording of the Dark Magus double LP. Much of the night’s theatrics were courtesy of Miles himself, who, after arriving over an hour late despite living just blocks from the venue, informed his septet that they’d be joined by a pair of guests during the second set – 22-year-old saxophonist Azar Lawrence, and French-Bahaian guitarist Dominique Gaumont.

While Lawrence had gained notoriety for his then-recent work with McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones, members of the septet became familiar with the relatively-unknown Gaumont when the band performed in Paris in late ’73.

Dominique took me all over Paris on the Metro and we were having a ball. I brought him to the hotel and introduced him to Miles, who was in a kinda semi-conscious state because he had been ill. He had nurses around the clock with him in the suite. So I introduced Dominique to Al Foster and we hung out and had dinner in the restaurant. We dined for hours and went to a club. I don’t know if Miles remembered meeting Dominique and the next time we met was in New York. When Dominique came to New York he hooked up with Al and Al brought him by to Miles’s place and that’s how he got in the band.

Pete Cosey interview via The Last Miles

Though much is made of Gaumont’s contribution to the night’s second set, the beauty here is the way in which the septet so easily reshapes itself to accommodate the new musicians. Having honed its act to a fine polish, the surprise addition of Lawrence and Gaumont unmoors the band from its familiar patterns and allows Columbia’s tape engineers to document the exploration of some entirely new turf. In contrast to the expertly crafted psychedelia of the opening set, the sprawling, indulgent, often disorienting second set doesn’t simply make for a thrilling live LP, but one that captures a pivot point in real-time.

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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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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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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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