7.11.1973 Paris

From the site of his 1949 love affair with Juliette Gréco to his legendary soundtrack session for Louis Malle’s “Elevator to the Gallows”, a fractious date with Coltrane in the Spring of ’61 and into a killer string of electric dates, Paris provided Miles with a well of inspiration rivaled only by New York City. Despite a mountain of technical challenges that plagued him throughout, this July performance at the Olympia is an absolute monster, all thanks to a working group that’s in peak form from end to end.

The show’s also a rare one in that it features no keyboard – though we can hear the Yamaha organ briefly sputter to life toward the end of the set, the instrument seems to fall victim to the same ghosts that sideline Mtume’s beatbox and often send Miles’ trumpet spiraling into an ocean of feedback. A battle of man vs. machine that makes for a thriller of a tape.

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7.10.73 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” has surfaced, though at nearly 28 minutes it carries 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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6.30.1973 Osaka

Prior to its demolition in 2009, Osaka’s original Festival Hall was known for its remarkable acoustics and the iconic live albums left in its wake, including Deep Purple’s Made in Japan, Cheap Trick’s erroneously titled At Budokan, and of course, Miles’ Agharta and Pangea LPs culled from a pair of shows on February 1, 1975.

It’s somewhat ironic that this partial audience tape capturing Miles’ inaugural performance at the venue is possibly the worst-sounding live recording of his entire electric period. But like the similarly dire Fukuoka tape from two nights earlier, there’s some fascinating stuff here if your ears are willing to put in the work.

Osaka Festival Hall (center) pictured in 2008
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6.28.1973 Fukuoka

Though the Miles Davis septet’s 11-date Japanese tour included a remarkably well-documented pair of shows in Tokyo, this rough audience tape from Fukuoka on June 28th is one of just two other tour dates in circulation. A tape of the June 30th gig in Osaka is the other, but be warned – the sound is abysmal. Beyond that, the official tour program (below) is one of the few relics from a tour that by all accounts was among the band’s most adventurous.

Sounding as though it were recorded from within an air duct, the fidelity of this Fukuoka tape leaves much to the imagination – “Agharta Prelude” doesn’t offer much beyond Michael Henderson’s punishing bass frequencies, and the audience clap-along in “Zimbabwe” is louder than the tune itself. Still, there are some serious moments of curiosity here, most of which are packed into a 27-minute “Ife” at the start of the tape.

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6.19 + 6.20.1973 Tokyo

Miles and his newly streamlined septet began a brief tour of Japan in mid June – his first dates in the country since 1964. While the dismissal of sitarist Khalil Balakrishna and percussionist Badal Roy was likely a result of Miles’ desire for a more nimble ensemble, Lonnie Liston Smith’s departure to begin a solo career left the bandleader without a regular keyboardist for the first time. Having competently manned the organ on 1972 studio sessions that produced “Rated X” and “Billy Preston“, Miles simply took over keyboard duties himself beginning here in Japan – contributing sparingly at first but going all-in by year’s end.

This well-documented pair of dates from Tokyo’s Kōsei Nenkin Kaikan concert hall proves the seven-piece ensemble hit the ground running – performing with the confidence of a lineup that knew one another’s strengths and gave everyone room to flex. As Paul Tingen writes in Miles Beyond:

“Bootlegs from this tour show the music at a higher level than before, more focused, elastic, and dynamic. With the ensemble pared down from ten to seven musicians the clutter had gone, revealing the revolutionary essence of the “funk with an experimental edge” in all its clarity.”

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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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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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