7.1.1975 Avery Fisher Hall

The wealth of documentation chronicling Miles Davis’ electric period begins with an 85-minute audience reel captured at a small club in Rochester, NY on February 25, 1969. It concludes here at Lincoln Center on July 1, 1975 with a tape recorded on stage by guitarist Pete Cosey. While Miles would perform his final concert of the 1970s in Central Park on September 5 – a tape of which is yet to surface – at least one subsequent gig in Miami had been booked. When Miles canceled the date last-minute due to ill health, the concert promoter impounded the band’s gear, cauterizing the electric era and kick-starting the trumpeter’s period of seclusion that would last through the end of the decade.

“I was spritually tired of all the bullshit I had been going through for all those long years. I felt artistically drained, tired. I didn’t have anything else to say musically. I knew that I needed a rest and so I took one.

I was beginning to see pity in people’s eyes when they looked at me and I hadn’t seen that since I was a junkie. I didn’t want that. I put down the thing I loved most in life – my music – until I could pull it all back together again.”

from Miles: The Autobiography

Lincoln Center was a venue Miles knew well, having recorded a trio of live albums there, including My Funny Valentine and Four & More during a February 12, 1964 date, as well as the 1972 In Concert LP documenting the barely controlled chaos of his 9-piece ensemble. Given that context, there’s undeniable poetry in Miles returning to the venue for the final recorded performance of his most creatively adventurous era.

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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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