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Miles’ Bitches Brew is 50 Years Old.

Posted by Rick Frystak, September 9, 2019 01:46pm | Post a Comment
 
Miles DavisBitches Brew was hatched 50 years ago to the public. Unbelievable. Columbia did a 40 Year Anniversary box set of the record, so I don’t expect costs or sales in the current marketplace to allow a 50-year version. Bitches Brew IS NOT LIKE OTHER records of its time, or any time. It should have a hype sticker on the outside. I believe it had a ‘’2-LP’’ sticker or something to let you know, or to entice you to buy/warn you. The first time I heard any of It was on a series of bootleg LPs that sounded like it was just hard core jamming, with the gents’ strict orders to play their asses off, and LOUDLY! The music itself was more like In ASilent Way at a faster tempo, dipped in more distortion, courtesy Chick’s Rhodes set to 11, and at faster tempi. There was a bigger hit of funk in this, due to Jack Dejohnette’s evolvement in the groove that was happening. I was familiar and in awe of the players, hence my interest in the first place. 
 
Then it came out on a legit 2-fer, with German painter Mati Klarwein’s fantastic gatefold artwork, so mysterious, tribal and enticing. It contributed to many sales of the record, no doubt, and just the title-Bitches Brew-challenged the norm of the day (this was 1970), visually wreaked havoc on one’s imagination, and surely tugged at the sexuality of anyone who checked it out. And that cover REALLY made you want to check it out. To this day.
 
Miles was letting the cats do their own thing, and then Teo would edit later. These cuts (or sections of them) began showing up on the boots from 1969, and many have wonderful sound quality. Miles’ album Live-Evil held edits of some of these remarkable sessions. Differing speakers tighten the sound considerably, giving the electric pianos a sound stage that blends them into what sounds like one Rhodes Piano. On headphones, Airto has some definite African groove spinning out of his groovy Brazilian head, plus some animal effects emanating from his prowess. These are especially prominent in the live cuts released in the subsequent Bitches Brew Live album.

Miles had discarded the RMI electric pianos around this time. Good. Rhodes ruled. I love the spacey dissonance of the 2 or 3 Fender Rhodes pianos-they sound like one person with fifteen fingers. These fingers split themselves into a Zawinul, a Corea, a Hancock and on the guitar, a McLaughlin, not to give short shrift to a Billy Cobham, Tony WilliamsLarry Young and the whole, big world of jazz-rock legends that those fingers were dancing to. Listening now, can you believe that this music was the beginning of huge new styles in jazz-rock thought up in the mid-late 60’s?

OK, so then the studio record(s) came out as a 2-LP set on Columbia Records’ 360-degree label. There are SOME allusions to BItches Brew on all Miles’ discs located around this time. You’ve got Harvey Brooks,  Electric Flag’s bass player on most of the studio material, shadowing Dave Holland, but never live, so only a studio thing. Was he Miles’ choice ‘cuz he dug the Flag, or what? I guess he had worked on Betty Davis’ LP around this time, and Miles dug what he was doing. He works out about half the time, the rest of the time he’s echoing Holland with Zawinul, Jack and Chick, or just doing garage band rock grooves. It gave producer Teo Macero more stuff to edit in. You’ve got Larry Young doing his best juju, but not live. There is a treasure of known innovators here, but mostly Chick, Jack, Dave, Keith and Airto, with Zawinul, Cobham and Herbie on the studio cuts. All these ‘’complete’’ box sets show the progress of Miles’ and Teo’s thinking, and I have my favorites. Here, we’re talking Bitches Brew. Bennie Maupin’s, bass clarinet added a foreboding sense of the spookyness, perhaps the best reflection of the cover art and another stroke of genius, musically, in this particular brew de’ bitch. But it’s the foundation of later jazz-rock that we have here, so big deal, indeed.

Currently we’ve got what Sony calls, ‘’The Legacy Series.’’  These have been remixed and remastered by Teo Macero and various other engineer types in the era (Stan Tonkel, Russ Payne, etc.). Legally, I understand that Joe Zawinul had to squeeze Miles to get his name credited to some of the pieces (Pharoah’s Dance, In A Silent Way, etc) that he rightfully wrote. What’s ‘’writing’’ in this context? In A Silent Way is clearly a song Joe was working on, with extra music and changes with Cannonball and on his first solo album. 

Bitches Brew is not like other of Miles’ recordings that he recorded at that time. Live, you could hear his huge change of direction, starting with his own playing, with leaping, searching whelps of chromatic blues and then into the Jack Dejohnette/Chick Corea/ Keith Jarrett show, Jack doing his massive, rolling funk trip and Chick squeezing every sound possible from the Rhodes with distortion and a ring modulator attached. And don’t forget Keith Jarrett’s last use of electronics  (including Ruta and Daitya, cut in 1972 on ECM) before going 100% acoustic, here playing the long-discontinued Fender Contempo Combo organ which Miles must have thought blended nicely with the Rhodes. To me it sounds like something you’d borrow from the kid down the street for a garage jam, but oddly sounds wonderful in Keith Jarrett’s hands, used in unison with other riffs Keith was playing. This is best illustrated in the Complete Cellar Door sessions that Sony released from 1970 sessions at that club.
 
Do you have The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions box set? Most of the unreleased (until this box set ) cuts I like better than the actual released LP takes. You can hear Miles reaching out into differing styles much more than what we’re given in the official release, pretty much a lot of similar jams that Teo Macero and Miles chose to edit severely. In fact, this is a major editing project, one that makes the tracks blossom into ‘’songs’’ that were deemed the right direction for Miles to present to his audience as his current sound. I suppose that continuity was a factor in putting the set together as time would tell.
 
Mobile Fidelity, the audiophile remastering company has released a great sounding remastered version of the record here.  Mobile Fidelity has also released In A Silent Way, with some Bitches Brew-intended material included which were meant for some of Miles' projects. Who knows, with all the tape editing, what made it and what ended up on the floor.
  
The in A Silent Way box set (highly recommended) delivers the last of the more compositional Miles cuts, many written by Wayne Shorter. Wayne does drop ‘’Sanctuary’’ into the whole Brew, almost to add a little respite to the 15-finger sound that the rest of the tracks deliver. At this time, too, Wayne was pulling back as THE writer, saving his stuff for Weather Reportand knowing from what I hear in the live situation (Wayne didn’t make the Newport Jazz Fest at this time because of traffic getting in!), that he would enjoy less improvising, as his composing was becoming more and more interesting.
 
In this remix culture, the calls to remix this record are moot-it’s been done at least twice already. The Quadraphonic remix, which plays normally and wonderfully in stereo is available all over, (I’ve seen many copies at Amoeba Music) as many original Quad Columbia LPs are. They made a big commitment to Quad when the format came out. The Quad mixes are just a few guys in a room remixing the multitrack tapes into 4 channels. These might be 3-track mixes,( folded out? )into four. Or, they could be 8-track recordings, so says Sony engineer Mark Wilder. One hears some totally different playing, unedited by Teo, and different movement in the whole project. Absolutely fascinating. There is also a Japanese Quad SA-CD 2-disc that may be remixed by Teo. I have not heard those mixes.
 
The Legacy Edition that you get when you buy the current version states that it has  been remixed and mastered by Teo Macero. This could be in error, as Teo does not mention these in his subsequent interviews, and Miles can’t comment.
 
To read a difinitive article about the Bitches Brew album, sessions and methodology, go to Paul Tingen’s phenomenal piece in Jazztimes magazine from July 2017 here: https://jazztimes.com/author/paul-tingen/

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Bitches Brew (2), Miles Davis (40), Jazz (151)