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Miles Davis - Bitches Brew CD (album) cover

BITCHES BREW

Miles Davis

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.25 | 761 ratings

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bfmuller
5 stars To some, BITCHES BREW is rock. To others, it is jazz. Often this category is applied by the experts or appreciators on the other side of the border. That shows how often they are puzzled, many times clueless, about it.

BITCHES BREW is one of the most original and influential albums of all times. Nothing ever sounded like it before, and would never do it again. Yes, this was all said before. But like other revolutionary albums, such as Sgt. Pepper's or Dark Side of the Moon, it is not possible to speak of it without acknowleding (or rejecting) the genius of it.

I've already spoken about the controversy caused by Miles's turn to fusion, and also a little about why is it so original, in my review of In a Silent Way. BITCHES BREW is the most important step in that direction. Miles in the Sky was just a hint, a wave at rock'n'roll. In a Silent Way was the first step. It was very important, and it was certainly not shy. But it was nothing compared to the shock caused by BITCHES BREW.

This effect can be realised if you see documentaries like Miles Electric: A Different Kind of Blue. But the best way is to experiment it. As a double album, there is a lot to experience.

One of the features that make BITCHES BREW one of a kind is the unorthodox process of its making. Those playing in it don't even form a band in the common sense of the word. They were just a bunch of musicians gathered in a studio to do some jamming. Later, producer Teo Macero and Miles took the tapes, tore them to pieces and glued their favorite parts, in an certain order that pleased them, even repeating some sections.

Put it that way, it sounds awful, doesn't it? And, to some, it is. It is because they don't undestand this music process. BITCHES BREW is not supposed to be a traditional form of music. There are some abrupt cuts and lots of dissonance. There are some very odd combinations of instruments and sounds. One might approach it as one does with impressionist or concrete art. It is meant to form a layer of sounds that only make sense together, or in itself. That's why there are so many overlong tracks. There are themes and underlying melodies and harmonies, but the point here is the journey, the experience. Twenty minutes of concrete music.

The title track is an excellent example of this approach. The main theme opens it, but in the studio, it was played after the second section. Around the middle of the track, it is repeated, as if to remember the listener where we come from - and where we go to. It is repeated one third and last time at the end. The theme is not revisited. It is the same recording. Traditionalists are outraged by this process. To them, it is like cheating on a test. Nevertheless, one just need to listen to the live recordings of that period, or watch the videos, to see that it captured perfectly the sound and the spirit of Miles's ensemble.

As for the musicians, it was like Miles wanted to make sure he was not limited in his sound chase. Of course, it is not only about quantity. He always searched for the best. And looking at the line up, one will see that was exactly what he had. I only regret the absence of Tony Williams, one of my favorite drummers (along with Keith Moon and Neil Peart), but Jack de Johnette is certainly in the same league.

It must also be noted that here, size matters. It was just not sound so original, and its effect so overwhelming, if it were limited in the traditional form of a band and shorter tracks. The only barriers impossible to cross were the time limits of LP.

I'll return to the title track. Many people call songs "epic" based on their size. Bitches Brew, in its 27 minutes, is TRULY epic. It takes you to uncharted territory. How often do you hear acoustic and electric basses playing at the same time? Three keyboards? Bass clarinet as a leading instrument? Or a trumpet that ACTUALLY sounds like a electric guitar? It is interesting to note that John McLaughlin's awesome guitar is more rythmic, and not as prominent as In a Silent Way. That's because here Miles took the responsibility, literally, in his own hands. The main theme of Bitches Brew is a loud fanfare with a trumpet filled with echo and keyboards full of dissonant chords. Stanley Crouch, jazz critic, described it as hammers smashing down his fingers. To me, it is simply exciting. Most guitar players cannot rock this hard.

Later Miles would irritate purists further, plugging in his own instrument and playing through a wah-wah pedal. How heretic is that? A delight for an iconoclast like me. Yet, maybe it is exactly because here he is still playing acoustic, with just some echo, that the result is so impressive.

BITCHES BREW is a challenging album, both for its own musical experiments and, obviously, for the listener. Yes, some say it was made to folks with their mind twisted with acid and pot. If so, nowadays, with our minds sober, we can see that one needs not to turn to such substances to open their mind and senses.

Is it enough or is it too much? That is for the listener to say, based on mere musical taste. But this is a fact: this is one of the most important and innovative pieces of music ever made.

bfmuller | 5/5 |

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