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 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 [the volume], that’s all he had to say it one time! 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 hiring and firing keyboardists until 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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9.10.1972 Ann Arbor

While dicey health kept Miles from the road throughout much of 1972, his studio activity during the spring and summer was a revelation, producing the still-futuristic On the Corner album, providing much of the meat for his Big Fun and Get Up with It LPs, and collected in part on the Complete On the Corner Sessions box.

Much like his 1970 sessions documented on the Complete Jack Johnson Sessions set, Miles’ 1972 studio ensemble featured a rotating cast of familiar faces (Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette, Michael Henderson, Keith Jarrett, Mtume and others) and fresh blood (guitarist Reggie Lucas, Khalil Balakrishna on electric sitar, organist Cedric Lawson, drummer Al Foster, and tabla player Badal Roy). This time though, Miles took every member of his final 1972 studio session on the road – beginning the mercurial practice of smearing the line between his studio and live output.

Even with Henderson and Mtume the lone holdovers from his 1971 working group, the music Miles’ band produced when it returned to the road in September 1972 is astonishingly different from what poured from the stage just a year prior. The impetus has been dissected by the more qualified, and frankly, genre signposts serve no use – this music is the equivalent of magma erupting from a crack in the earth. Borne seemingly out of nowhere, it simply exists. The first fissure occurred on the final night of the 1972 Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz festival.

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11.20.1971 Cascais

The five-week, 21-date 1971 Newport Festival in Europe tour was both exhaustive and exhausting, but as a platform for showcasing Miles’ headlong dive into abstract funk, it certainly got the job done. The tour’s all-star lineup of Duke Ellington and his orchestra, Ornette Coleman’s quartet, as well as a “Giants of Jazz” ensemble featuring Monk, Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie only reinforced the stark contrast between Miles’ new direction and the more traditional jazz he’d largely abandoned.

This performance in Cascais is the end of the road for the septet’s European tour and the curtain call for drummer Leon Chancler, who was immediately, though temporarily replaced by Jack DeJohnette when the band returned to the states. Just 18 at the time Miles added him to his working group, Chancler was admittedly in over his head throughout the tour but would go on to great things; a stint with Mwandishi earned him the nickname “Ndugu” (Swahili for “earthly brother”), he contributed to Joe Henderson’s magnificent The Elements and Weather Report’s last great album Tale Spinnin, and hit paydirt on Michael Jackson’s Thriller and BAD LPs. The kid did alright.

“Playing with Miles was definitely something I regarded as something out of my reach … The overall awareness that he had of what everybody was doing and how they were doing it really affected me. He listened to everything and everybody. Those are the things that turned my life around. There was just so much going on there, and it was so intense and so much so soon. It was phenomenal.”

Ndugu as quoted from Miles Beyond by Paul Tingen
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11.16.1971 Turin

As the Miles Davis septet neared the end of the 5-week 1971 Newport Festival in Europe tour, the band began performing with the determination and ecstasy of a marathon runner in the final mile. Familiar grooves ran deep and heavy, a whiff of unpredictability guided the jams into strange turf, and the septet remained impressively tight despite its exhausting itinerary. This performance from the architecturally futuristic but acoustically meh Palazzo dello Sport in Turin is a prime example of the lineup at its most delirious.

The audience tape is a bit murky and features some splices/drop-ins toward the end of the set, but it includes nearly the complete show. The performance was also filmed and edited with a fairly heavy hand for a program called “Jazz on the Screen”. Though none of the tunes are shown in their entirety, its soundboard audio is a significant upgrade and the film captures some great moments, including Miles’ reaction to Keith Jarrett interrupting his solo during an incredibly funky “What I Say” intro (seen here).

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11.14.1971 Venice

The final leg of the 1971 Newport Festival in Europe tour brought the Miles Davis septet back to Italy for a trio of performances in and around the “upper-boot” region. This audience tape from the magnificent Teatro della Fenice (seen below) captures the first of three consecutive nights of shows.

The mismatch of a heavily amplified jazz-funk septet in an 18th-century opera house results in an audience tape that leaves a lot to be desired – percussion and horns dominate the mix, Keith Jarrett’s keyboards are buried but audible, and Michael Henderson’s bass is often merely a suggestion. Still, this is an incredible display no matter the barriers.

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11.13.1971 London

This audience tape is from one of two shows the Miles Davis septet performed at London’s Royal Festival Hall on the final leg of the 1971 Newport Festival in Europe tour. Though there’s no indication if this recording is from the matinee or late show, my money’s on it originating from the early performance given the band’s intensity level and freight train pacing at the start of the set.

Much like the document from Miles’ 1969 show at Hammersmith Odeon, the murky fidelity of the tape tends to mask some exceptional moments from this London performance, but they’re here if you’ve got ears. After ten straight run-throughs of the same setlist, Miles appears to tweak the song order on the fly as he cues the band into “What I Say” immediately following “Directions”. Nudugu sounds especially thrown off balance as he spirals into chaos during the segue while Miles, somewhat hilariously, solos atop the wreckage. Once the band kicks into the tune proper the pace is absolutely maniacal, reaching a climax with a Rhodes solo from Keith Jarrett that’s the aural equivalent of a tornado tearing across an open field.

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