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Miles Davis - The Cellar Door Sessions CD (album) cover


Miles Davis


Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.15 | 15 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars Fans of electric Miles Davis might feel a warm glow of déjà vu while sampling this mammoth '05 boxed set. A lot of the material has been heard before, in the live parts of the 1971 "Live-Evil" album, albeit heavily edited by producer Teo Macero, who never saw a length of recording tape he didn't want to cut and rearrange. The earlier LP still works as an abridged sampler, but for over three decades has frustrated anyone expecting an undoctored performance.

Well, here it is at last, 35-years later but worth the long wait: six discs of embryonic Jazz-Funk fusion, "on the edge and off the rails", according to bass guitarist Michael Henderson. The box compiles six of eight complete, uncut sets from the eponymous Georgetown jazz club, closing out a watershed year for Davis. From the spring release of "Bitches Brew" through the summer acme of the Isle of Wight festival, and to his barnstorming of larger Rock 'n' Roll arenas, 1970 was truly an annus mirabilis in the career of the suddenly galvanized trumpet player.

The Cellar Door was a relatively small venue for Davis at the time, seating upwards of one hundred patrons, max. So the sound of these gigs is more intimate than the Fillmore East or West concerts. And the band was again slightly re-shuffled from the impressive talent mix of those earlier tours. Jack DeJohnette kept his spot behind the drum kit, but his long-time battery mate Dave Holland was replaced here by Michael Henderson, the first true rocker in an otherwise Jazz Rock ensemble. And Chick Corea had finally left for other, greener pastures (see: RETURN TO FOREVER), leaving Keith Jarrett as the band's only keyboard ace.

Jarrett has always been loud in his disdain for electric keyboards, and didn't change his tune when contributing to the notes in the extensive CD booklet. But his performances on each of these discs include some of the most vital, creative, and invigorating playing of the entire box, at times surpassing even Davis in energy and ingenuity. The trumpet player too was in peak form, his style already fragmenting into the sudden bursts and staccato interruptions that would characterize his sound at mid-decade.

The music wasn't yet the fully-formed funkathonic monster of the "Dark Magus" era, but it was starting to lean in that direction, cued by the use of a wah-wah trumpet pedal: a crutch for the increasingly ill Davis in years to come. And the final icing on an already colorful Fusion cake was a last-minute guest appearance by John McLaughlin on the final night of the residency (discs five and six here). The guitarist throws himself headfirst into some torrid solos, but the heavier guitar lines of Reggie Lucas and Pete Cosey were still below the horizon in late 1970.

So the question remains: how much live Miles Davis is too much of a good thing? There's a lot of repetition from set to set here, and although the details vary between each performance, I would challenge even the hardiest fan to sit through all six discs in one sitting. My advice is to play it like it was originally performed; one or two sets per evening over four separate days. The caliber of the music speaks for itself, but even the most brilliant troubadour will sound like a windbag without an occasional break.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |


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