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The Miles Davis Quintet
Live In Europe 1969: The Bootleg Series Vol. 2 3-CD + DVD (Columbia/Legacy, www.legacyrecordings.com, www.milesdavis.com)
First, the players: Wayne Shorter (soprano and tenor sax), Chick Corea (electric and occasional acoustic piano), Dave Holland (bass) and Jack DeJohnette (drums); sometimes referred to as the "lost" quintet, due to the unavailability of recordings by this lineup. There are three CDs and one DVD, and to say that these recordings represent a transitional period in Miles Davis' work would be an understatement. Three of the four concerts begin with the virtually freeform Zawinul composition, "Directions," but then launch into three different pieces from the then-unreleased (and not even recorded for the first two dates) Bitches Brew. From the Bitches Brew material, Miles nudges the players into songs ranging from such "ancient" material as "Milestones" (on 7/25/69) and "I Fall in Love Too Easily" (on 7/26/69) to "Paraphernalia" (on 11/5/69)to "It's About that Time" (on 11/7/69). That he could move seemingly effortlessly from new material to old to new, from several different eras of his career, seems almost magical. Indeed, as was the norm for Miles in this era, there are no stage announcements (other than introductions), and no pauses between songs, as Miles points his musicians toward the next piece with musical cues and, as evident on the DVD, with visual cues as well.
Discs 1 and 2 are from Antibes, July 25-26, 1969. On the 25th, "Directions" is fast and furious, leading to a "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down," with DeJohnette's frenzied drumming pushing the band. "Milestones" is next, with Corea's soloing ranging from straightahead to avant-garde. After Shorter's "Footprints," Monk's "'Round Midnight" takes the ensemble and audience back to 1956 in song selection, but not performance style, as it builds in tempo and intensity to workouts by Shorter and Corea, before Miles' trumpet cuts through clear and clean, and leads the band into the then-recent "It's About that Time," Shorter's soprano solo turning serpentine. Trumpet and tenor intertwine on a fairly brief "Sanctuary," before the concert ends with a 53-second "The Theme." The following night, only a few songs are repeated. This time, "Directions" achieves frantic liftoff, which Miles modulates into "Spanish Key" and then into a version of "I Fall in Love Too Easily" that sounds more spooky than balladic. All of a sudden, Miles turns the corner into a raging version of Shorter's "Masqualero," then reprising "Voodoo," Shorter's soprano soaring, Corea and Holland engaging in a freeform duet, with Miles ultimately reining it in and moving into a swinging "No Blues." Shorter's "Nefertiti" and "Sanctuary" follow, before an almost perfunctory "The Theme" closes it out.
Following the summer European engagements, an expanded version of the band recorded the groundbreaking Bitches Brew. The quintet came back to Europe in the fall, and two sets from November comprise the final CD and the DVD. On November 5, in Stockholm, Corea is heard primarily on acoustic piano, lending a different flavor to the music. This night's version of "Nefertiti" recalls the "free bop" of the Hancock-Carter-Williams era which preceded this "lost quintet." In Berlin, a slightly tamer "Directions" begins, moving into "Bitches Brew" with trumpet and sax giving way to a free keys and bass conversation. A particularly intense "It's About that Time" gives new insight into this piece, originally found on In a Silent Way. This time, it moves into a lovely version of "I Fall in Love Too Easily" featuring just piano and trumpet; this in turn subtly transitions into "Sanctuary" before a 10-second "The Theme" closes the concert and the collection. The visual aspects of this performance enhance the listener's ability to watch as the leader, sometimes with only the slightest of movements, lets his band know where to head next. It also shows how each of these musicians was able to interact with one another, as well as with Miles. There are extensive liner notes by Josef Woodard which further enhance the appreciation of this remarkable set of concerts.