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Miles Davis - Miles Davis Quintet: Live in Europe 1969 (The Bootleg Series Vol. 2) CD (album) cover


Miles Davis

Jazz Rock/Fusion

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4 stars Any serious fan of Miles Davis regards the trumpeter's career as would a geologist standing on the lip of the Grand Canyon. And here's another stratum of musical history recently unearthed: three CDs and one stunning DVD of the proto-electric Lost Quintet in concert, test-driving material that would later emerge on the ground-breaking 'Bitches Brew' album the following year. The audio discs were recorded in southern France and Scandinavia; the video was shot in Berlin for German TV, and you can't tell me the latter didn't influence a lot of nascent Krautrockers in the late 1960's.

The transformation of Miles Davis from acoustic icon to electric rebel wasn't an overnight event, but a gradual process, and this package captures the transition near its precise mid-point, equidistant from both Jazz and Rock. His live repertoire still included chestnuts like ''Round Midnight' (1957) and 'Milestones' (1958). But it's possible to hear a shift in the prevailing musical winds when the latter segues into the more urgent syncopation of 'It's About That Time' on Disc One. The album 'In a Silent Way' would be released only five days after this gig, but the same, soothing melodies recorded in the studio five months earlier were already turning nervous and agitated on stage.

There certainly isn't anything jazzy in the surging drum rolls of Jack DeJohnette, or in Chick Corea's gently distorted Fender Rhodes piano, the only electronic instrument in an otherwise unplugged ensemble (his solo turn during the Berlin performance of 'Bitches Brew' has to be seen to be believed). The entire band is beyond criticism, although I wish Dave Holland's upright bass had been miked louder. Miles himself no doubt felt the same, and it wouldn't be long before he directed Holland to beef up his sound with an electric bass guitar instead.

But that was later. The music here will likely appeal more to unreformed Jazzheads able to forgive the less-than-pristine dynamics of the Juan-les-Pins concerts (originally a radio broadcast). The Stockholm gig has better clarity, but it's the Berlin DVD that pushes this set towards four- (and possibly five-) star territory. Listening to Miles Davis is always a privilege, but seeing him on stage in 1969, totally inside the music and with sweat pouring off his face as he lifts his trumpet, is the stuff of legend, like watching Picasso at his canvas or Ruth in the batter's box.

Very little screen-time is wasted on superfluous close-ups (a pet peeve, to be sure), and the imagery is so clean it might have been filmed yesterday. Davis was still the epitome of Jazz coolness at the time, but in this collection it's possible to watch as well as hear a very different beast about to emerge from its musical cage.

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Posted Monday, October 7, 2013 | Review Permalink

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