December 22

I’ve been so intimidated by this album, I’ve never actually listened to it:

1970’s double album from Miles Davis, Bitches Brew! I guess it’s the reputation this album has… free jazz experimentation and the progenitor of jazz fusion? The awesome gatefold cover art by Mati Klarwein? The monster almost 27 minute title track? I’d even seen a diagram somewhere that showed the studio setup for the recording of this thing at least two drum sets multiple bass, percussion and electric keyboards…  wow. just wow!

It was likely all of those things. I’ve had this record for 20 years…. Found in a thrift store bin in Great Falls, Montana, I gladly coughed up $0.50 for this (nearly) flawless vinyl example of this record.

I’ve had my copy pulled out of the collection, cleaned and set aside for listening for nearly a year. I knew I wanted to finally tackle this intimidating record. So tonight was the night!

I have to say that the listening sessions I’ve had over the last year have emboldened me significantly to get to this point. I now own or am familiar with several other Miles Davis records as well as other examples of jazz fusion and free jazz.

Still, there’s something about this album that scares the bejesus out of me! Reading the liner notes didn’t help too much. Ralph J Gleason’s oddly capitalization adverse words were full of “world changing” and “you will never hear music the same way again” type of stuff.

Internet reviews of the record didn’t help much either. One of my favorites, Donald Fagen of the band Steely Dan panned the record mightily. Thom Yorke of Radiohead said it was “inspiring to see someone build something up just to see it all crash down”. Oh jeez…

I also read that the album producer, Teo Macero, took a great liberties in cutting and splicing together different sounds and different tracks as to almost create totally new compositions. This was not going to be Kind Of Blue!

I sat and stared at the cover art while the 20 minute first epic track spun, entitled Pharaoh’s Dance. The cover, all Nubian princesses, tornado hairdo and flower on fire was truly mesmerizing.

Pharaoh’s Dance confirmed all of the research done previously. A full album side of jazz rock fusion! Knowing that the band didn’t do studio overdubs, it was obvious that there was some production magic happening.

Side two contained the title track for the album. Clocking in at 26 minutes and 59 seconds (!), this is probably the longest single song I own on vinyl! To me it was the stand out of the album… several different jams knitted into one cohesive track and brought full circle by the end. The most interesting part was when you could hear Davis changing tempo, his fingers snapping, marshaling the rhythm section to a different pace. The ethereal bass clarinet grooving… his words of encouragement as the other players fell into his groove.

The other song that I was most excited about was the opening track to the side 4, Miles Runs The Voodoo Down. This was apparently a homage to, a challenge to, or an answer to Jimi Hendrix! Unfortunately this was the most disconnected and free jazz track on the record!

All in all I am a fan of Biches Brew. I still prefer the acoustic instruments of his earlier works but I no longer have to worry that this album is under my bed at night, just waiting to scare me!

2 thoughts on “December 22

  1. Good on you for tackling one of the most divisive albums ever released under the banner of ‘Jazz’. Worth persevering, I reckon. All that era of Miles is dense and demanding, but rewarding (ultimately!).


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