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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11.1.1974 Allen Theatre, Cleveland

Despite health issues that kept his creative output minimal in the latter half of the year, Miles booked a fairly hefty schedule of live dates in November of 1974. And who could blame him? With a trio of phenomenal guitarists in the lineup and saxophonist Sonny Fortune now a full-fledged member of his working group, studio material from the period proves the Miles Davis octet was white hot.

As evidenced by this relatively unheralded tape from Cleveland, rumors of Miles’ ill-health seem to have been a bit exaggerated, with both the bandleader and his ensemble operating at peak form.

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8.2 + 8.3.1974 Paul’s Mall

The seven-month stretch between Miles’ triumphant run of shows in Brazil and the Japanese gigs in early 1975 that would birth Agharta and Pangea is one of the darker recesses of his electric period. Though the octet’s activity remained steady with dates throughout the eastern U.S., the live tapes are few and far between, many capturing only portions of the performances in less-than-ideal fidelity. Thankfully, there remains enough documentation to trace the evolution of the band that would emerge in Tokyo as the unassailable colossus that crystallized the final chapter of Miles’ electric era.

These tapes from Paul’s Mall are notable mainly for the inflection point they document – with saxophonist/flutist Dave Liebman having left the group after the Brazil dates, Sonny Fortune was effectively auditioned on the bandstand during the octet’s multi-night stand at the Boston venue. Our man got the gig and remained with Miles through February of ’75. The tapes are also curiously devoid of third guitarist, Dominique Gaumont, who’s inaudible on the August 2nd performance and failed to join the band on stage for the 3rd, providing a glimpse of the seven-man Agharta / Pangea lineup in its most embryonic form.

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