Miles Davis, ‘Laurasia’ (MD Laura-01/2)
Disk one // First Set: Band warming up / Funk (Prelude part 1) / Maiysha (39:42)
Disk two // Second set: IFE / Turnaroundphrase / Tune In 5 (Including Willie Nelson) / Hip Skip (42:18)
The first Miles Davis show in Japan in 1975, the first date of a 13 show tour through the country, is a very prised object. Originally released via Seymour Records as ‘Laurasia’ (SR 032/33), Hannibal as ‘Oriental Afrobeat’ (Hannibal-008), ‘Another Unity’ (Mega Disc Legendary Collection MD 0122) and ‘Live In Tokyo 1975’ by Hi-Hat (HH2CD012). The title, ‘Laurasia’, a nod to the ancient, Northern landmass that included what we now know as Asia while the Pangaea supercontinent was still essentially one whole. That supercontinent giving it’s name to the 1976 double live album recorded on the 1st of February at the Festival Hall in Osaka on this tour, while it’s earlier sister release, ‘Agharta’ was released in 1975 and was the matinee show, recorded the very same day.
Geology lesson done, ‘Laurasia’ or known by it’s many other titles was recorded on the 22nd Of January, 1975 at the Shinjuku Kohseinenkin Hall in Shinjuku, the reason it is afforded so much in the way of pressings in a luxury format is because of the sound – Uniformly excellent it SOUNDS like an official recording, indeed, you’d believe it was, barring a handful of times when the boldness of the recording threatens to push the needles over the limiter. Alongside its two official offshoots, the power that the recording has is immense. I’ve seen it posed as both a soundboard and an unissued radio recording – Though it’s most likely that it’s origin is from a radio recording because of the audience noise prior to and during the band warm up.
The shows themselves, while not as fierce as the 1973 shows where Miles was promoting, “On The Corner” (See “Live Down On The Corner”), there are smoother edges to the circle but jazz was still an unwieldily beast in Miles’ hands – here he was either stoking it’s fire or trying to wrestle it off of it’s stoop. Maybe it was because of ill-health (Getting his body back together after an accidental overdose in 1974 will have taken its toll, other mental health complications notwithstanding, Miles wasn’t in a good way). The show starts with a lengthy ‘Funk’, an engaging riddle that’s propelled by Michael Henderson’s bass, Al Foster’s drumming and Pete Cosey and Reggie Lucas’ twin guitars – Miles joins in at just over two minutes with a spiraling and urgent trumpet line which lies until it morphs in to something more soulful, then unfolds with intonations in to something a little more African in tone, as the rest of the band break to allow it to breathe for a short period, the break then restarts, a short while after that, the organ ebbs back to life, the chunky bass reverbs like a large pac-man. The guitar-lines start-up again at 11 minutes with a fractured, sleepless buzz before driving out like a swarm of bees.At just past the 14 minute mark, the guitars and bass take over alongside percussion, waspishly galavanting this way and around before the robust bass-line slips in and out of form – The band finally collude to a funky coda, all the speed drops in at one moment, instrument battles instrument for space before they seemingly implode then writhe as they form again.It certainly invites your patience, while there are diversions, closures, pick-ups and twists, the gargantuan length of just one track can almost seem like an impossible request, it is worth baring with as the leafs unfold, however.
‘Maiysha’ is shorter, more softly melodic, it looses the harder edges of it’s predecessor and makes more use of Sonny Fortune’s flute playing with still adapting elements of the previous – Imagine a more florid tone, an easier pace but as we reach the 3:30 mark, the bass bumbles in, leaving large footprints, the guitar makes a woozy reentrance as the flute leaves for the door, just short of 6 minutes, the organ takes to skating through as the guitars chop out disco form while bringing a bit of anger. At a shade over 7 minutes, the flute floats back in again, taking the style down to pleasantries again, this blends quickly in to a restrained solo of Miles’ trumpet playing as he and the band get quieter and quieter. The ten-minute mark shows in a lazy, funk styled grove – Much as you might hear from musicians these dates, a chiming, stoner influenced groove that just as swiftly turns in to a raggedy, dissimilated, Hendrixish ramble of power that goes runs between lazily blissed and back again. At just over the 15 minute mark, the band slumber and wind it all down.
Picking up on disk two, ‘IFE’, the crowd are very appreciative of this and in waves, start to clap their approval, this burst of polite applause pushes on the band who play louder and angrier somehow over this daisy-age, space oddesey. Like a tremulous heartbeat, the over-arching gage of peculating guitars swoop and roar like hunters while the flute peps cheerily on the ground. Once again, the trumpet chimes in to give rise and cut through while the tempo rises incrementally before the guitar turns to a wildly different tone, springing shapes that are more heavy rock in tone. At exactly 11 minutes, the power drops significantly to enter towards a moment of space-deep floating – Beautiful drum paddling, edges of guitar, that tumbling bass and the winsome trumpeting before charging back around 4 minutes later. The track ends to a steel drum type sound, skipping around energetically into the next tracks.
‘Mtume’ and ‘Turnaroundphrase’ both have different styles – The former a cymbal heavy, fidgety work of drum and bass, increasingly jerky guitar licks sidle up alongside and natter along with the short, staccato bursts of horn, the latter is much, much more furious – Using the same kind of wah-wah effects as guitar sounds, this aches to keep working, biting at the air, it has a devilish quality all of it’s own. It spends a merciless 5 minutes spinning around in it‘a own fury.
The next track doesn’t actually feature Willie Nelson, the artist, as the cover may suggest but instead features a sampling of the ‘Jack Johnson sessions’ track at the beginning. Starting with a grouchy, crunching guitar burst, the cow-bell is used to force here as that looping guitar riff informs the introduction, only to give way as Miles steps forward with his bare-based trumpet playing. The band drop out not long after to leave Miles to solo on his own, only gathering again after a short while to underpin the trumpet with a shifting, edgy, spacial musique-concrete bed.
From this, a Spanish flavoured guitar loop brings in ‘Hip Skip’, rotund bass patterns, juddering effects, chiming, charming guitars (Reminnicent of Radiohead around 20 years before their time) and a trumpet solo that sounds like early 60’s Miles, brings the set to a glissando end.
I must mention the packaging this time – The set comes in a duo-fold digi sleeve, full colour glossy covers and an obi-strip. Quite why the sleeve was afforded a little more luxury this time, I’m sure you’ll hear in the music and in the performance. A stunning set, official quality, pretty much perfection. As an accompaniment to both the official ‘Agharta’ and ‘Pangea’ albums, it’s pretty much perfect. A solid package worth owning.