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Miles Davis - Bitches Brew CD (album) cover


Miles Davis


Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.25 | 706 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars It's fascinating to try to figure out what an album is trying to say, especially an instrumental album that might have some underlying concept. What do the song titles mean? The album title? The artwork?

And I don't buy the idea that listeners have no right to impose their own meanings onto music. Artists know that once they publish their work, it is no longer exclusively theirs - - especially when they sell more than a million copies of it.

So what did Bitches Brew mean in late March 1970 when it was released? I know very little of the state of jazz in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I wasn't even born until a few months after Bitches Brew came out, and with a few exceptions my interest in music only made it to jazz very recently. So while I see Louis Armstrong's criticism of "modern jazz" in the early 1960s, and Miles Davis's criticism of that criticism, as part of a cycle inevitable in art, I don't actually get it. The stipulated facts seem to be that Jazz, like all art forms, was going to change at some point; that the change would have both external and internal causes; that Davis challenged the jazz status quo from the inside; and that his vision wound up exerting outsized influence on the future of jazz.

So one meaning attached retrospectively to Bitches Brew is that of some sort of "knockout punch" or "final nail in the coffin" of the old jazz - - In a Silent Way having been the penultimate punch or nail. Another meaning involves producer Teo Macero's postproduction: Bitches Brew means what it means not only due to Davis's artistry, but equally to Macero's ex post facto "composition" of the material using techniques similar to musique concrète. In this view Bitches Brew's place in history would've been assured even if its style hadn't been an affront to prevailing conceptions of jazz; after all, fifty years later, post-performance dicing and splicing is essential to nearly all forms of popular music.

In any event, in late March of 2019, Bitches Brew, subtitled "Directions in Music by Miles Davis," still sounds avant-garde. Ok - - maybe safely avant-garde, but experimental and formidable nonetheless. Compare this to the Doors, whose music of the late 1960s and early 1970s was apparently considered ribald. By 2019 standards, it's still good music, but no longer racy. Bitches Brew still sounds way out today. There's no way this is going to get confused with Michael Buble, whose Love currently holds down the top spot on the Billboard Jazz Albums chart, as it has every week since it debuted seventeen weeks ago. (A Miles Davis - John Coltrane concert from March 24, 1960 reenters the chart at #17).

My attempts to identify the meaning of Bitches Brew have thus far failed. Luckily, the music is very good, both in terms of composition and performance. My only quibble is this: I appreciate the sonic and stylistic shifts, both within and between songs, more than I enjoy them; I'm not sure that this is Macero's editing or the pieces themselves. On the other hand, the overall sound of the album, which I certainly attribute to Macero, is fantastic, better than In a Silent Way, which sounded pretty good.

I own four Miles Davis albums, and thus far Bitches Brew is my favorite. Sure, once in a while it seems like the band is doing weird stuff just to see if they could get away with it. But consider "Feio," a bonus track on most versions of Bitches Brew currently in print, to get an idea of how avant-garde the album might've been. Most of the time, Bitches Brew is daring but still consummately musical. Maybe that's its ultimate meaning.

patrickq | 4/5 |


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