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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