Miles Davis, ‘Live In Zurich 1971’ (So What! / Voodoo Down VDD 2022-015)
(First Concert) Disk one; Directions / What I Say / Sanctuary / It’s About That Time / Bitches Brew / Funky Tonk / Sanctuary (79:50)
(Second concert) Disk two; Directions / Honky Tonk / What I Say / Sanctuary (40:40)
Disk 3; It’s About That Time / Yesternow / Funky Tonk (51:52)
DVD (70 mins)
Neue Stadthalle, Dietikon (Switzerland). October 22nd, 1971
By Autumn 1971 the Miles Davis Septet consisted of the truculent trumpeter alongside Gary Bartz, Keith Jarrett, Michael Henderson, Leon ‘Ndugu’ Chancler, James Mtume Foreman and Charles Don Alias. Jack De Johnette had split in the late Summer to form ‘Compost’ but would still return for sporadic dates until the end of the year. The studio band were effectively out of action at the moment as they were signed up for a long European tour schedule all the way through October – November 1971, Miles himself would not return to the studio until 1972 though this long bout of touring would allow the band a little more time to flex without watching the studio clock and also feeling the hit of the immediate audience reaction.
As much of Miles’ live dates were widely recorded and kept for prosperity – Live jazz was broadcast near nightly, thankfully most of it has been archived and, in somecases, released officially – Columbia have done a great job with the official bootleg series for Miles but while they’ll be mindful of keeping the flame alive, not each and every gig will see release, this is obviously where the bootleggers have stepped in. Previously the second of the shows has been released on a single disk from Zipperman records (The Plosin site describes a CDR of this show, I have in my collection a silver disk release so either the bootlegger was bootlegged or it’s simply a missing link), the set now forms the basis of two disks in this set, the first set taking the whole of disk one.
The sound is one of the widest stereo mixes I’ve heard so far – Leon Chancler far right, Keith Jarrett far left, Miles middle left, Michael Henderson around center – It’s the perfect mix for jazz of this style, balancing everything in mid air, the music dances around, giving a deeply spacial feeling that’s commanding but also allows an easy location for the players (I’d LOVE to hear this in 5.1 if it could be managed). The set list relies heavily on the previous handful of studio albums that Miles had released to this date – In fact, he’d been out of the studio since June 1970 and wouldn’t return until March of 1972 – The constant touring and extra proclivities keeping him more than able. “In A Silent Way”, “Bitches Brew” and “Jack Johnson” all being fuel for the set.
As you’ll know through previous reviews, there was a constant stream of innovation and improvisation that ran through these shows – Increasingly shifting like sand and as tough as rhino-leather, Miles shifted through these sets rapidly, holding on to themes and positing them mid song when the feeling struck him. He certainly had a hook about him and deftly danced them about when he saw a moment. His magpie tendencies saw him pick from anywhere – including Indian music after Miles and the quintet had eaten dinner in a takeaway one night, he had one ear for the conversation, one ear on the music.
The first set, as we’ve heard before is beautifully relentless. It starts without announcement and then charges headlong through a well oiled improvisational wall of sound. Thrilling eeks from Miles’ trumpet punctuate through the almost pulverising rhythm section, slowing down to a throbbing pace towards the end of ‘Directions’ as we reach street easy basslines and cartoon-villain keyboard punctuations.
‘What I Say’ begins with an awesome round of puckish bass and some masterfully fast drumming – Like a duracell bunny, Ndugu takes his almost super-human rattle and applies some hot sauce taking the band on a collision course to the sun, the undulating bass lines stutter and jurk, incrementally slowing as the track meets it’s heartbeat – an eerily languid end to the track is graced with elements of the track floating towards the surface before an almost lullaby-like ‘Sanctuary’ floats in to the room, leaving elements that ‘It’s About That Time’ picks up and runs with – Miles picks rhythms and cadences, dropping them for atonal flourishes before picking them back up again at will.
By the time we get to ‘Bitches Brew’, things start to get edgy again – It’s menacingly plodding theme, raising and falling with alongside the sultry, effortless sax lines.
‘Funky Tonk’, the longest track here at over 25 minutes worms around all over the place, taking in the glacial points of cool to the warmer tones of the funk.
The disk ends on a take of ‘Sanctuary’, the shortest track at just over a minute, a hymnal more than anything, it brings proceedings to a riotous halt.
The second disk begins with the second set – Fading in as the stage announcement is being made, the show is another tour de force, beginning with a take on ‘Directions’ that bears all the classic hallmarks of it’s style before morphing with a lengthy stadium rock keyboard solo that melts back in to the abstract form. ‘Honky Tonk’ relies on a much more jazz frame with the slow groove of a sexy funk emerging, taking the pace down to an almost standing pose before striking up again for the strident urgency of ‘What I Say’ – The drums take less of a centre stage here, almost taking a sideline to Keith’s squelchy vibe and Gary Bartz’s sax which takes the lead in launching for lunacy with a blistering solo that resonates wildly.
‘Sanctuary’ is almost as laid back as horizontal gets – Less melodic than it’s counterpart from the first set, it’s more akin to wind chimes and a blissed out stream of pink noise. A short rendition, however.
Disk three begins with an elastic, ‘It’s About That Time’ – Creeping and stretching like a rubber cat, it sways like it’s just stood up with a charly-horse, like a crazy cop-show, acid dream – the band lick through a tight bend of discordant rhythm, round each bar steadily eyeing Miles as he’d throw them a glance to fillet an action and place it right in the mix.
Bleeding right in to ‘Yesternow’, the tune takes on a more pointed tone, pressured, threatening even, it’s almost palpable. The bass stop-starting as it edges itself around. Miles drops in after around 5 minutes with eerie shrieks of the trumpet which weave their ways through the eclectic, nervous backing.
Finally, ‘Funky Tonk’ rounds out the set. The audience are wordlessly implored to show their show their appreciation before Miles signals the beginning – Notes like extra-terrestrial communications flutter around from Keith Jarrett’s piano before he dashes in to an avant- mood, preceding the morph in to a gloomier buzz of statically charged punctuations. Just short of the 10 minute mark, it changes in to something much more groovy, a heads-bobbing bass structure, expelled by Miles’ wailing horn, the percussion is a vehicle for that looping bass, there it edges before the cacophony edges nearer towards an awesome bundle of power.
Unfortunately, it fades out before the end, leaving the listener to wonder what we’re missing.
The set also comes with a bonus DVD-R featuring a recent (?) broadcast on German WDR of the second set. Shot on Technicolor video tape – any consideration over the intensity of the performance is elevated as the band follow their guts and follow the blueprints that Miles set out – The bandleader hardly raises his head as he’s in simpatico trust that his band will know when to leave and return.
Listening through my TV rather than through headphones reveals that the visuals were recorded with a different mix – certainly Keith’s piano is louder in the mix to me. It’s worth it for the stunning, ‘What I Say’ alone!
This is a superb set of sets – Beautifully recorded, the sound dances around you and is every bit as good as the best that this label has produced. The packaging, minimal but so very sleek looks wonderful and neat – It needs no tampering with. Fully recommend picking this one up – No doubt the last word on these concerts – Doubtless, this couldn’t be much bettered if it was released by Columbia either. Though it would be nice if it was completely complete, what we have is great though!