Miles Davis was riding high when, on June 17th, 1970, he and his rock-infused electric septet walked onto the stage of New York City’s Fillmore East for the first of a four night stand. Bitches Brew had come out a few months earlier, In A Silent Way a few months before that, with both following the four years he’d spent leading his second great quintet. Now, recordings of all four Fillmore East shows have been released as Miles At The Fillmore: Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3 (CD, digital).
For those unfamiliar with this era of Miles Davis…
try to imagine Santana’s late-’60s work crossed with the jammy vibe of The Rolling Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” Blind Faith’s “Do What You Like,” and The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “Rainy Day, Dream Away,” but if you swapped out the vocals for Miles Davis’ distinctive trumpet playing, and then employed a jazz-like approach to improvisation as opposed to the structural approach of a rock song.
Which means this isn’t for everyone. While nothing on Miles At The Fillmore veers into the totally formless approach of free jazz, there are times when these songs sound more like atmospheric sculptures of tone and texture than anything you could hum as you stroll down the street, especially since Miles Davis and crew didn’t stop playing between songs, and instead just jammed their way from one end of these shows to the other.
But for those into his electric years, Miles At The Fillmore finds Miles Davis and his band in top form, especially on such tracks as “It’s About That Time” on the June 20th disc, “Spanish Key” from the June 18th show, and “Bitches Brew” on all four nights. Drawing heavily from Bitches Brew — half of that album’s six tracks were played those nights, some multiple times — these four shows feature many of the same musicians as that classic album: electric pianist Chick Corea, bassist Dave Holland, drummer Jack DeJohnette, and percussionist/flautist Airto Moreira (organist Keith Jarrett and tenor/soprano saxophonist Steve Grossman round out the group). Though while Miles is especially energized here, and Moreira’s percussion adds some real color, it’s the solid and steady rhythms section of Holland and DeJohnette that gives this music its jazzy foundation.
Good thing you can hear every note so clearly. As was the case with the previous volumes of this series — 2011’s excellent Live In Europe 1967: The Bootleg Series Vol. 1 and 2013’s Live In Europe 1969: The Bootleg Series Vol. 2 — the use of the word “bootleg” here is a bit misleading. None of the shows in this collection were recorded by some dude who snuck a tape recorder in under his jacket. Instead, they were done with professional equipment by legendary jazz producer Teo Macero, who had previously produced Bitches Brew. Which is why the music sounds bright and vibrant, as if the shows were just last week. Well, assuming anyone played music like this anymore.
Miles At The Fillmore also corrects the mistakes of the original double album, 1970’s Miles Davis At Fillmore. In putting that collection together, Macero edited the original tapes, sometimes rather drastically, so that each night’s show fit onto a single side of a record. For instance, “Directions” from the first show was cut from 10:24 down to 2:29, while the version they played on the second night went from 12:50 to 5:35.
Of course, by not leaving anything out, Miles At The Fillmore ends up sharing another commonality with the other two releases in the Bootleg series: there’s a lot of repetition in the set lists over the four discs. Though all of the shows clock in around an hour, and between five and eight tracks each, the songs “Bitches Brew,” “Directions,” “The Mask,” “It’s About That Time,” and, of course, “The Theme” appear on all four discs, while “Sanctuary” is on the last two. Which is not to say that the different versions of these songs sound the same. Quite the contrary. Mr. Davis never plays the same solo in exactly the same way here, a work ethic shared by his band.
But unless this is your favorite Miles Davis era, you probably won’t need all four shows. Especially if you have the live DVD from the Bitches Brew: 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition, which has Miles, Corea, Holland, DeJohnette, and saxophonist Wayne Shorter tearing through many of the same songs (and, in my opinion, is a slightly better show than any of the Miles At The Fillmore ones, though not by much).
In addition — and this is me being a nit-picky purist, so hang on — the first and third discs in Miles At The Fillmore have been inexplicably padded out with songs from Miles’ April 11th, 1970 show at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. It’s not even the exact same band, as Keith Jarrett had joined in the intervening months, while Moreira didn’t play flute at the San Francisco show.
Admittedly, it’s not that big of a deal, especially these days, when you can just not upload those extra tracks to your computer or MP3 player, or could just burn CDs of the two shows without those tunes. But it does beg the question of why they included them in the first place. Would people really be annoyed that those discs would’ve been only fifty, fifty-five minutes long without them? Didn’t we get over that nonsense in the ’90s? Or at least when people started buying their music digitally?
Though considering that I just spent two paragraphs complaining that they did include them…
In the end,
unless you only want one live show from this era — in which case I’d suggest getting the one in the aforementioned Bitches Brew: 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition — Miles At The Fillmore: Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3 is as rock solid as its name is long. Not only does it fix a mistake that never should’ve been made, but it captures Miles and one of his great electric bands really firing on all cylinders. Which is why, on June 20th, 1970, when Miles Davis and his septet walked off the stage of New York City’s Fillmore East at the conclusion of a four night stand, they were still riding high.