It’s been said, “You haven’t heard Miles Davis, until you’ve experienced him live in concert.” And with with over 36 official live recordings (and countless unofficial bootlegs) the release in 2013 of the Miles Davis Quintet from 1969, Live in Europe, adds what amounts to one of the most important live recordings ever.
“It was really a bad motherfucker,” Miles Davis wrote in his autobiography of the live band he led in 1969. With somewhat less panache, Davis completists have pegged the group the Lost Quintet, since, unlike the two longstanding Davis five-pieces that preceded it, this one never made a proper studio recording. All of the members– saxophonist Wayne Shorter, keyboardist Chick Corea, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette– appear on 1970’s landmark Bitches Brew and other scattered sessions from the time, but only as part of larger ensembles; until now, if you wanted to hear them as a stripped-down unit, you had to consult imports, bootlegs and YouTube. This second installment in the Miles Davis Bootleg Series, which follows an excellent 2011 set focusing on the trumpeter’s prior working band, gives us three complete Lost Quintet gigs, plus the majority of a fourth, on three CDs and one DVD. (Hank Shteamer; “Miles Davis The Bootleg Series, Volume 2: Live in Europe 1969”, Pitchfork, January 31, 2013. Accessed on 2/22/2016.)
What Live in Europe 1969 gives us is a remarkable snapshot in time, showing Davis as the public conscience of his art by escaping the limits jazz had imposed on itself. It’s a simultaneous response to free jazz, rock music and Davis’ own musical past, plus a bit of good old fashioned futurism that gives us a glimpse of what could have been but never quite was. This is coruscating, exciting, magnificent jazz and it’s tempting to say Davis never played better than he does on these discs – certainly he never played with such technical assurance, range and invention plus a muscularity and aggressiveness that will come as a surprise to many. As drummer Jack DeJohnette recalled: “It was a great period, a really high point of creativity for Miles in that period. He wasn’t doing any drugs. He was straight into macrobiotic foods, and we all were. He was playing long, strong solos and hitting high notes – really nailing them.”
“The live stuff really should have been gotten on tape because that was when the band was burning.”
– Chick Corea
Then there was Wayne Shorter, also playing brilliantly with a technical assurance and ferocity you’d be hard-placed to match anywhere else in his discography, yet contrasted by a sensitivity that could only be matched by Stan Getz, one of his staunchest admirers. Both Davis and Shorter seemed intent on raising the musical stakes every time they took the solo microphone, with Corea, Holland and DeJohnette responding to the challenges of the moment with audible joy; Corea demonstrating a mastery of the Fender Rhodes that is probably unsurpassed to this day, Holland with those deep, powerful grooves he would become famous for (back then he was just 23 years old) and DeJohnette, emerging from the shadow of his predecessor Tony Williams and seemingly coming of age as a more rounded, complete musician.
Interestingly, these live performances show Davis had not entirely abandoned the standards repertoire as he had on his studio recordings since 1965’s E.S.P., as Live in Europe 1969 includes performances of ‘Round Midnight’, and ‘I Fall in Love Too Easily’. The rest of the set lists draw mostly from the repertoire of the second great quintet (Davis-Shorter-Hancock-Carter-Williams) as well as other long established Davis staples, but he was also drawing a line under the past by spending hours with his band rehearsing and working on new material that would soon emerge on Bitches Brew. (Stuart Nicholson,“Miles Davis – The Lost Quintet”, Jazzwise Magazine, April 2013. Accessed on 2/22/2016.)
This is stand-up-and-listen jazz that demands your attention, a hypnotic collision of harmonic and rhythmic sojourns into the unexpected. During these performances, leader Davis takes one song into the next seamlessly, with no pauses, leaving the listener waiting with bated breath to see just where he’ll travel next. (These concerts were recorded for radio broadcast, and those broadcast masters are the source of this Bootleg volume. All sound exceptional and far better than on any previous bootleg incarnation.) And Davis literally could have performed anything from an incredibly diverse book. This period was the only such one in his career when he might reach back to Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn’s “I Fall in Love Too Easily” in between “Spanish Key” from Bitches Brew and “Masqualero” from the 1967 Sorcerer, as he did in the July 26 concert. Whether a standard, a foray into modal jazz composition or looser, open-ended playing, Davis and this “lost band” were ready to approach each piece with drive and focus.
On these recordings, Davis sounds emboldened by the new feel of the band. Dave Holland was a bit less subtle and intimate than Ron Carter, and Jack DeJohnette’s roiling drums, too, brought a different flourish than the style of Tony Williams. At his perch from the electric piano, Corea introduced a prominent new character to the instrument’s role in the arrangements. Shorter, a holdover from the last line-up, was supremely adaptable. Highlights are numerous, but most mind-blowing might be the July 25 performance of “Milestones,” an early Davis experiment in writing modally. Of course the shape and style here is wholly different than the original take (which had Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane on saxophones, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on double bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums!) but it’s stunning to hear the quintet so deftly and surprisingly veer from the relief of the familiar riff into nearly fifteen minutes of uncharted territory. Corea’s shimmering electric piano and Dave Holland’s slinky double bass engage in some particularly spellbinding interplay as the tune wends its way to a conclusion (and into the prolific Shorter’s “Footprints”). Tackling these extended compositions, each man knew when to play, but just as importantly, when not to play. (Joe Marchese, “Review: The Miles Davis Quintet, The Bootleg Series Volume 2: Live in Europe 1969”, The Second Disc, February 1, 2013. Accessed on 2/22/2016.)