Rant ‘N’ Roll: Rarest Of The Rare

In the 1990 Miles: The Autobiography, Miles Davis tells his biographer Quincy Troupe, “After we finished In A Silent Way, I took the band out on the road. Wayne [Shorter], Dave [Holland], Chick [Corea] and Jack DeJohnette were now my working band. Man, I wish this band had been recorded live because it was really a bad motherfucker. I think Chick Corea and a few other people recorded some of our performances live, but Columbia missed out on the whole fucking thing.”

Until now.

Better 43 years late than never: Live In Europe 1969: The Bootleg Series Volume #2 (Columbia/Legacy) is a revelation. (Volume #1 was the celebrated Live In Europe 1967). The new box contains four discs: 1) A July 25 hour set at the Antibes Jazz Festival in France, 2) Same venue the next night with wildly different results, 3) Stockholm on Nov. 5, 4) 46 minutes in Berlin in color on DVD Nov. 7.

This lineup is now known as the “third great quintet” or “the lost band of 1969/1970,” lost because they never got to enter the studio as a proper quintet. Sure, they first coalesced in the presence of other musicians on the 1968 Miles Davis album, Filles De Kilimanjaro. And, of course, they’re all over his landmark 1969 Bitches Brew (with about a dozen others). But for the grace of the European bureaucracies of France, Sweden and Germany whose state-owned radio and television outlets recorded and filmed the proceedings, we wouldn’t have had this.

And what a treasure!

Miles sounds great. He was drug-free, on a macrobiotic diet, had plenty of lung power and everyone in the band—masters all—push, prod and provoke the legendary trumpeter into spiraling, dizzying heights of free-form avant-garde adventure. (Shorter’s on soprano and tenor saxophones, Corea on electric and acoustic pianos, Holland on the upright acoustic bass and DeJohnette on drums.)

What’s key here is that at no other time did Miles ever perform the entire impressive gauntlet of his career in one fell swoop. They go ‘40s bebop (Monk’s “‘Round Midnight”), ’50s modal (“Milestones”), ‘60s ballads ‘n’ blues (“I Fall In Love Too Easily,” “No Blues”) and ‘70s electric (“It’s About That Time,” “Spanish Key”). Shorter wails on his “Footprints” (which Miles recorded on 1967’s Miles Smiles), “Nefertiti” and “Masqualero.” Corea gets to comp on his “This” (which Miles never recorded). Plus, the version of “Miles Runs The Voodoo Down,” don’t forget, is performed months before they entered the Bitches Brew studio…and is appreciatively different.

Josef Woodard’s fascinating 3,000-word essay (“Field Recording From A Future-Leaning Past”) is part of the package. “Live In Europe 1969: The Bootleg Series Volume #2 digs deep,” he writes, “to reveal a little-known period in the work of a giant, seen and heard performing with an amazing band, music that was unlike anything he recorded before or after.

“And so, these important `field recordings,’ from a mysterious past and unfolding future, take us to a place and a time between the cracks of the Miles Davis story as it is commonly understood. For that alone, never mind the rattling, exploratory poetry of this band’s sound, this is a significant cultural document for the ears and the ages, not just for the archives.”

Let’s let Chick Corea have the last word. He’s “glad these shows are being made available to the public. They document an important step in Miles’ artistic development, which takes us from the famous suit-and-tie-wearing quintet with Herbie [Hancock], Tony [Williams], Ron [Carter] and Wayne through to this quintet, which definitely leaned more towards the rock and beat generation. This certainly was a transitional band and music, resulting in Bitches Brew and Miles’ later steady beat music, with Miles’ lyrical voice remaining always the touchstone. For me, it was an ultra exciting time playing with the man whose music I literally grew up on.”