6.10-12.1975 Bottom Line

As his health continued to deteriorate and drug dependency led to canceled tours, missed dates, and uneven gigs, Miles Davis began his retreat from the stage in the summer of 1975. Following remarkable multi-night stands in Philadelphia and Boston in May, Miles performed just a handful of dates from June through September, all of which took place in New York City. This cache of tapes from an early June, five-night stand at the Bottom Line marks the beginning of that abrupt end.

Miles at the Bottom Line, June 1975. Photo by Tommy Yoshizawa

As evidenced in those tapes from Philadelphia and Boston, the Miles Davis septet remained in peak form – expanding on the heady abstract elements and telepathic interplay that came to fruition on its tour of Japan months earlier. Against all odds, Miles himself was performing with a level of vigor and engagement he hadn’t displayed in years and was writing material with a renewed focus on melody and pure beauty.

Despite a clear eye toward its next evolution, these tapes from the Bottom Line reveal the sort of schizophrenic nature of a Miles Davis gig in mid-1975. Beset by technical issues and a distracted bandleader, the first night’s sets are often messy and uneven, and though full of high points they never quite achieve liftoff. The second night’s tape captures a two-set show that’s among the most cohesive, incredible 90 minutes of electric Miles you’ll hear. A journey that remains richly dramatic through to its final notes.

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5.12-17.1975 Philadelphia

Though Miles Davis performed in Philadelphia several times throughout his 1969-75 electric period, just three of those sets are known to have been documented. The first is a phenomenal late-1970 performance at the Electric Factory, featuring the only known video footage of the Keith Jarrett, Gary Bartz, Jack DeJohnette and Airto lineup. The second and third circulating tapes originate from this five-night run the septet performed at the short-lived Just Jazz in May of 1975, where the band performed nightly sets at 9 and 11pm.

The first of the Just Jazz tapes documents an unknown date from the band’s May 12-17 run, the second captures a set from the final night, both of which feature the band in full flight just days after saxophonist Sam Morrison first joined the band on-stage in Boston. For those unfamiliar with the shadowy period between the recording of Agharta and Pangaea in February and the band’s haitus in September of ’75, tapes like these from Philadelphia are a revelation. Not only is Miles’ horn playing remarkably powerful and inventive, but the septet continues to explore entirely new turf – restructuring familiar tunes, piling on new tones and electronic textures, and incorporating some of the most gorgeous melodic themes of the entire electric era.

This is a brief period that produced some truly exceptional music. Overlook it at your own peril.

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5.2 + 5.3.1975 Paul’s Mall

After nagging health issues and an exhausting schedule culminated in Miles collapsing backstage after a St. Louis concert on March 27th, his band canceled its remaining tour with Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters and took a well-deserved break from the road. Rest and recuperation be damned, the respite was a brief one, and the Miles Davis septet resumed its live activity with a six-night run at Paul’s Mall beginning on April 28th. This was a band on a mission, returning to the stage invigorated and intent on continuing its rapid evolution.

Paul’s Mall managers Tony Mauriello (l) and Fred Taylor (r), 1972

As tapes from previous visits to the venue suggest, Miles clearly felt an affinity for Paul’s Mall, treating extended stays at the basement club as a testing ground for new ideas and a prime locale to audition new band members, as saxophonist Sonny Fortune would learn halfway through this 1975 residency. Upon seeing a young sax player named Sam Morrison during the band’s break from the road, Miles invited the Long Islander to sit in with the septet during the final nights of the Paul’s Mall run.

Having watched Morrison from the crowd for an entire set and hearing Miles tell others “I haven’t heard that much fire on the saxophone since ‘Trane was in my band”, Fortune resigned his post the following day. With Morrison’s arrival, the final lineup of Miles’ electric period was chiseled in stone.

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3.22.1975 Hofstra University

Fresh off a triumphant tour of Japan, the Miles Davis septet headed into the studio for a brief session on February 27th to lay down the still-unissued “Turn of the Century“. Despite Miles’ absence on the track, the 16-minute jam is a killer, with Pete Cosey soloing at length and Mtume smudging the air with washes of textural drum machine as the rhythm section continues to ride the wave of Agharta and Pangaea‘s funkiest stretches. Why it was left off the period-specific Complete On the Corner Sessions box set is a true puzzler.

Following the session, the band returned to the road for a string of dates with Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters – a dream double bill for sure but one that found Miles on unfamiliar turf, as he recounted in his 1989 autobiography.

Herbie had a big hit album and he was really well liked among the young black kids. We agreed to be his opening act. Deep down that pissed me off. When we played Hofstra University, Herbie – who is one of the nicest people on earth, and I love him – came back to my dressing room just to say hello. I told him that he wasn’t in the band and that the dressing room was off limits to anybody who wasn’t in the band. When I thought about it later, I realized that I was just angry about having to open up for one of my ex-sidemen. But Herbie understood and we cleaned it up later.

Despite the high profile of the tour’s leading men, tour ephemera and concert reviews are rarer than hen’s teeth, and no video or photographs are currently in circulation. This audience tape of Miles’ matinee and evening sets in Hofstra is among the tour’s only known documents.

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2.7 + 2.8.1975 Tokyo

With 11 shows under its belt, the Miles Davis septet capped its final overseas journey with a trio of shows at Tokyo’s Koseinenkinkaikan Hall – the same venue where its tour of Japan began two weeks earlier. Though the tour’s justifiably remembered for the performances from Osaka that produced the Agharta and Pangaea live LPs, the rapid evolution of the band and the drastically different performances documented across this brief run of shows are equally stunning.

Whereas the septet went all-in on dark, heady abstraction in the tour’s opening nights in Tokyo, by the time it reached Kokura a week later its sets were tight, deeply funky, and outright jubilant. A few days on in Osaka, the band was simply untouchable in its technical prowess, performing as if guided by an invisible hand to produce a quartet of sets that remain futuristic nearly five decades after their final notes faded.

Back in Tokyo for the tour’s finale, the band is new again – radically reshaping familiar material with confidence and swagger, unafraid to truncate epics like “Ife” or “Zimbabwe” down to their essence, or playfully stretch tunes like “Maiysha” to 30 minutes and beyond with long passages of experimentation. A thrilling listen from start to finish, these final dispatches from Tokyo encapsulate everything that made this Japanese tour so exceptional.

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2.1.1975 Osaka

Miles Davis’ electric period is largely defined by the quartet of albums bookending his seven-year creative run – In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, studio LPs laid to tape six months apart in 1969, and Agharta and Pangaea, live albums recorded during matinee and evening performances in Osaka, Japan on February 1, 1975. Whereas the 1969 LPs marked a pivot point in Miles’ career and created a template for an entire genre of music, Agharta and Pangaea remain firmly entrenched in the future. Music that’s defiantly unclassifiable and delightfully impenetrable.

Like the most rewarding live Miles tapes, such as his first gigs at the Fillmore West, the late ’71 show from Switzerland, or the septet’s gripping ’73 set in Pescara, the tapes from Osaka reflect a band possessed by forces unknown – creating music that travels far beyond any familiar terrain but executed with remarkable confidence and ease. While the septet hinted at some of its darker, headier, more sinister tendencies earlier in the Japanese tour, those elements don’t simply come into bloom here on the first of February, they propel the music itself.

The afternoon performance captured on Agharta is more upbeat, immediate, and frequently stunning, but the languid, unspooling sets documented on Pangaea reveal an equally compelling cache of riches. These are universes unto themselves. Whatever your preference, the best approach is to simply get lost in them.

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1.30.1975 Kokura

When the Miles Davis septet began its 1975 tour of Japan with a pair of dates in Tokyo on January 22 and 23, the tapes revealed a band diving headlong into a sort of abstract, frighteningly psychedelic universe of its own making. The sets were often experimental to the nth degree, drifting well beyond familiar forms, tempos and melodic structures into a no-man’s land of beautiful soundscapes and atonal, sonic assaults. Thrilling stuff.

By the time the septet reached the southwestern end of the island a week later for a performance at the Kokura Civic Center (demolished in 2003 to make way for a city park), its raison d’être seems to have shifted dramatically. Though “Ife” remains the heady centerpiece of the night and one of the most thrilling versions on record, the vast majority of the set is wound tight, deeply funky and downright jubilant. With this the final concert before the performances recorded for the Agharta and Pangea live LPs, it’s fascinating to hear a version of the septet so different from the one documented just two days later.

Kokura Civic Center in the 1960s
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1.22 + 1.23.1975 Tokyo

Fresh off a week’s worth of warm-up shows in California, the Miles Davis septet landed in Tokyo for a three-week tour of Japan – Miles’ final overseas performances until the 1980s. The band’s last visit to Japan in June of ’73 marked a turning point for what was then a fairly new ensemble of musicians, including the debut of setlist staples, as well as the first appearance of Miles on organ and Mtume on the primitive Yamaha EM-90 drum machine – essential components of the band’s sound that would be warped beyond recognition by the time the septet returned to the island in January of ’75.

Rather than coast on the momentum of their excellent warm-up gigs at Keystone Korner and the Troubadour, the septet seems hell-bent on rebirth upon arrival in Tokyo. With both nights captured largely in full, the tapes reveal a quartet of sprawling, lurching, often messy sets in which the band favors heady abstraction over funk, often pushing both the music and the audience’s endurance to their breaking point. As the February 1st date that produced Agharta and Pangea looms on the horizon, hearing the septet begin to fully integrate the more experimental, sinister elements that would define those LPs makes these Tokyo tapes a thrilling listening experience.

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1.17-19.1975 Troubadour

Following a three-night run at San Francisco’s Keystone Korner, the Miles Davis septet high-tailed it down to Los Angeles for four nights at the Troubadour in West Hollywood – a week’s worth of nightly gigs aimed at prepping the band for a three-week tour of Japan that began on January 22. For those looking to understand the band’s headspace leading into the February 1st shows that produced the Agharta and Pangaea LPs and the phenomenal Japanese dates surrounding them, these California tapes complete the picture.

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1.14.1975 Keystone Korner

Much like the residencies at Paul’s Mall in October of ’73 and Keystone Korner in April of ’74, Miles Davis prepped his live ensemble for its upcoming overseas tour with multi-night club dates – returning to the friendly confines of Keystone Korner in San Francisco’s North Beach, then on to the Troubadour in Los Angeles before shipping off to Japan in January of 1975.

The Keystone Korner dates were also the band’s first since guitarist Dominique Gaumont was dismissed the previous month. And though Gaumont’s departure returned the band to the septet configuration it had honed to perfection throughout much of 1973 and into 1974, the band that emerged here at the start of 1975 was an altogether different beast. The smaller lineup certainly allowed saxophonist/flautist Sonny Fortune more room to stretch out and carry the music into different turf than his predecessor, Dave Liebman, but the biggest benefactor was likely guitarist Pete Cosey, whose approach to his instrument shifted dramatically, almost as if he simply absorbed Gaumont’s voodoo, merged it with his own singular style and was born anew.

With Miles’ rapidly deteriorating physical health and a working band likely aware it was living on borrowed time, the ensemble often performs as if guided by an invisible hand – both possessed by and in service of the master, the 1975 septet produced some of the most fascinating, gripping music of the electric period.

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