Critic's pick: Miles Davis, Miles at the Fillmore, The Bootleg Series, Vol. 3

April 8, 2014 

Critic's Pick

Miles Davis

Miles at the Fillmore — Miles Davis 1970, The Bootleg Series, Vol. 3

By now, the posthumous catalogue of Miles Davis is groaning under the weight of one multi-disc set after another devoted to concert recordings from the late-1960s era that fans refer to, with varying degrees of fondness, as "Electric Miles."

To younger audiences attuned to the psychedelia of the day, the primal fusion that Davis summoned was revolutionary. To the jazz die-hards mourning the split of the trumpeter's famed mid-'60s acoustic quartet, the new electric music amounted to heresy.

Well, shelves housing the chronicles of Electric Miles need to brace for a new tenant. And, boy is it a beaut.

In the third installment of its Bootleg Series, Columbia's Legacy label revisits the October 1970 release Miles Davis at Fillmore — a double LP that remains the most focused yet daring document of performances Davis gave about the time of his seminal album Bitches Brew.

The original LP, and a nicely remastered 1997 CD edition, offered edited versions of performances at Bill Graham's Fillmore East in June 1970 over a four night run when Davis opened for, of all people, pop/folk songstress Laura Nyro. Original producer Teo Macero edited the nightly sets as one sidelong jam titled simply Wednesday Miles, Thursday Miles, etc. The newly retitled Miles at the Fillmore expands to four discs to offer full performances of the Fillmore East sets.

The music still sounds like a quartet of volcanic suites, but Miles at the Fillmore comes with a track listing. But don't expect that to stop the head-scratching. That frightening little trumpet/percussion preamble that leads Sanctuary on discs three and four is I Fall in Love Too Easily. Who knew? Ditto for the elongated versions of Directions that begin each disc with assorted melodic corrosions, deep rhythmic punctures and prize-fighting trumpet jabs from Davis. You might not even notice after the last mutated fragments of melody fade from each 10 to 15 minute jam that Davis has moved on to the electric fury of The Mask. There, the core group — keyboardists Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette (all prolific bandleaders and improvisers to this day) are allowed to run wild.

Davis himself sounds remarkably robust. As his music began to dissolve into hard funk as the 1970s progressed, his soloing grew sparser. Here, he simply soars, especially on a deconstructed version of Wayne Shorter's Footprints, one of the three bonus jams pulled from the Fillmore West two months before the rest of the performances. The venue might be different, but the immediacy and invention of this extraordinary music never relents.

Walter Tunis, contributing music writer

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