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Miles Davis - Bitches Brew CD (album) cover

BITCHES BREW

Miles Davis

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.26 | 383 ratings

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kamedin
4 stars I'm listening to Bitches Brew again, after falling in love with Spring Heel Jack's Live. I still don't like it, but it's not so mysterious as before.

Let's say I have a theory. I think the most important idea Miles Davis left to the world is "cool". In a time of flashy chromaticism and emphatic rhythms, Davis proposed a soft, flowing, carefree approach, without which it's impossible for me to thing of most of the subsequent "black" music, particularly in the soul-funk line. I see Davis as a trendy stylist: a man very worried about being "ahead of his time", always trying to catch the sparkles in the background and be the first to take them to the fore.

Now, from this perspective, I think Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come must have been a surprise, in a -maybe- not very pleasant way. By 1959 he had perfected the soft, flowing, careless-like approach to the extreme -to Kind of Blue extremes. It's not absurd to think that something like "free jazz", in the aggressive, even "dirty" sense of Coleman's style, must have been out of his plans. Coltrane's evolution into his own kind of freeform, his mystical histrionic kind, might have been more predictable, but I see it equally apart from Davis' language. His recordings with Monk are an interesting document on this: they're a constant battle of styles, as Davis seems uncapable to blend with Monk's disrespectful banging of minor seconds, and sticks to his soft, one-note-per-minute aesthetics. Compared with other trend-setters like, say, David Bowie, Davis was much more political and, therefore, less flexible.

So Davis "catches up" with free jazz a little late, and he's not very consistent about it. The most attractive moments in the Quintet's output are still the more reflexive, smooth and... unimodal ones; freeform is "relegated" to bop pieces. This is completely reasonable: free jazz has nothing to do with Davis' ascetic methods; only bebop allows a certain exuberance without breaking into "excess". Davis needed a way to make the atonal cool. He found it.

He found it in electric sounds and exotic polyrhythms. He must have been very happy about it; after that, he immediately started wearing colors.

Now I have two "objections" to Bitches Brew. The first and less important is the historical one. Jazz-rock, and even jazz-fusion, would have developed with or without Bitches Brew. Hot Rats was recorded in the very same year. Milton Nascimento recorded Travessia in 1967, which led directly to Clube da Esquina, the one album Pat Metheny considers -not without egocentrism- the most important ever. There was a path to jazz being walked from some time ago in the sources of "ethnic"; any trendy musician was aware of that. Besides, concerns with the exotic were very alive in the New York scene at the beginning of the sixties, as the work of minimalists proves, or Coltrane's Africa/Brass. Maybe the central contribution of Bitches Brew -and In a Silent Way, for that case- is a proposal of texture: light, spaced, the trademark of Weather Report's early phase. It's a consequence of pushing the cool into the atonal. Which leads me to the next objection.

For being so "flashy", I find Bitches Brew to be terribly cold; it wears the face of Davis the calculist. None of its generous sound or its colorful cover is reflected in the essence of the music, which is dry and geometric as cooking salt. The reason I can "enjoy" Coltrane's rants of atonality is that they go for, at least, a sublimation of sense. Davis' coolness was extremely enjoyable when it dealt with music that was just about becoming fat and boring. At this point, when the language has gone much more complex, it becomes boring itself; it offers very little to compensate the effort. It becomes pure style.

Nonetheless, albums like the one I'm in love with right now are unthinkable without Bitches Brew, of course. So, in the worst case, it's an "indispensable failure". Borges said once:

"History is much more generous than readers. There are very important books which are boring, anodyne or simply unreadable".

kamedin | 4/5 |

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