10/17/1973 Paul’s Mall

Following a summer tour of Japan and Europe and a couple of studio sessions that would later be collected on the Complete on the Corner Sessions box, the Miles Davis septet returned to Paul’s Mall in Boston a remarkably different band than the one that performed at the venue just over a year previous. Where Miles’ nine-piece band often teetered on the verge of chaos as it wrestled with the rough textures and polyrhythms of the yet-to-be-released On the Corner LP, the relatively spare 1973 ensemble offers a master class in cohesion, tension and release, and frequently jaw-dropping musicality.

With Miles’ predilection for rehearsing for tours with a multi-night club stand, the string of mid-October dates at Paul’s Mall from which this tape originates served as the band’s warmup for the European tour that began the following week. While session notes suggest the availability of a second tape from a separate night, this recording offers an exhilarating hour-long slice of the band’s October 17th performance as broadcast by WCBN FM.

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7.20.1973 Juan-les-Pins

Miles was no stranger to the Antibes Jazz Festival. Having performed three nights of sets in 1963, the second of which was released as the Miles Davis in Europe LP (nights one and three remain unissued), Miles returned to the fest in 1969 just days before the release of In A Silent Way, and weeks before the sessions that would produce Bitches Brew.

Miles sunbathing in Juan-les-Pins, 1963.

His 1973 set in Juan-les-Pins had the feel of a homecoming; both a return to a stage he’d conquered many times before and the end of the road for an intensive Japanese > European tour that saw the seven-piece band evolve at a remarkable clip. In many ways, this tape from Antibes is a collage of everything that made the band’s summer dates remarkable – long, elastic jams with an undercurrent of intense, heady funk and dark passages of abstract noise, all delivered with a whiff of unpredictability and mind-melting improvisational skill.

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7.17.1973 Verona

On the heels of a performance in Pescara that saw the band take avant funk into some truly uncharted turf, the Miles Davis septet rolled into Verona for another open-air show at an ancient Roman theater on the bank of the Adige. Though outdoor sets were surely a welcome break from the arenas and staid concert halls to which the band had grown accustomed, a handful of venues seemed woefully unprepared for the volume coming off the stage as evidenced by this uncharacteristically uneven pair of sets in Verona.

Despite a dodgy stage mix and jagged grooves that often fail to coalesce it’s impressive to hear the band soldier on through a gig that’s clearly a struggle from the outset. The show’s also an odd one for Miles, who abandons the organ for reasons unknown and sounds downright uninspired on trumpet throughout. A dark night for sure, but not without its bright spots.

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7.16.1973 Pescara

The back stretch of the Miles Davis septet’s Japan > Euro summer tour brought them to the Adriatic coastal town of Pescara for an outdoor festival at the Parco delle Naiadi. Five days removed from a technically challenging but fascinating gig in Paris, the band followed a Keith Jarrett solo set with a truly Jekyll & Hyde performance – the first half a relatively straightforward slab of heavy funk followed by a two-song closing set that’s easily the most gripping, avant-garde 58 minutes of music we’ve heard from an electric Miles lineup.

The audience tape was presumably recorded stage left in close proximity to Reggie Lucas’ amplifier, pushing his constantly wah’d rhythm guitar to the front of the mix. Though a bit overpowering at times, it reveals how crucial this dual-guitar lineup was to the band’s framework, as well as the less-than-subtle James Brown influence that lurked just below the surface.

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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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