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A game of two halves,
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This review is from: On The Crest Of The Airwaves (Audio CD)
Throughout 1969-70 it's amazing ordinary people were able to enter a Miles Davis gig. There are so many recordings, legit and bootleg, that the gigs must have looked like tape recorder conventions. (Odd though that the abundance of those years is not matched between 71 and 75. When are we going to easy get access to that? I know it exists but it's hard to get and expensive.) My own collection is a clear indication, with plenty of live material from the period, the quality ranging from hi fi to smudges on the tape. Now here's another two.
As with other gigs of the 69-75 era, there's a big element of "name that tune" going on, with a few cryptic clues thrown in randomly amongst the extemporisation. The set featured on the first disc, recorded at Tanglewood in August, superficially bears a passing resemblance to sets from Fillmore (West and East) gigs played the same year. The second disc, recorded at Fillmore West in October, looks more like a rehearsal for the Cellar Door sessions played and recorded at the end of the year. Funky Tonk is particularly familiar in that respect, especially Jarrett's parts (he's hardly "an addition", as one reviewer suggests, having been with Miles earlier in the summer at the Isle of Wight), carrying the same funky drive as the Cellar Door version, originally heard in edited form on Live Evil.
Both 1970 CDs are worth the (at least when I purchased) unbelievably low cover price. The sound quality of the first is a little rough, though better than a smudge on the tape. The nominal set list, beginning with Directions, is as familiar as the improv is not, and it's soon forgotten that the recording appears to start mid-tune. The sound quality on the second, meanwhile is very good.
The other two CDs, from a 1988 Australian radio broadcast, are, as you'd expect, of high sound quality. Unfortunately, I've always thought Miles's music from this period was underachieving, to put it mildly, though having paid for them I thought I'd at least give them a listen.
In some respects I was pleasantly surprised, although saying this isn't as bad as I expected is certainly not much more than damning with faint praise. There's some very accomplished playing all round and Miles is, well, Miles, as usual, reminding me of Philip Freeman's thesis that Miles never changed much, just the music accompanying him (it's actually more complicated than that, but that'll do). CD 4 in particular features three driving, extended pieces which give all members of the band a chance to establish a sustained groove. But accomplished as they are, they're no match for the riotous unpredictability of the 1970 recordings. And as for Human Nature. Send straight to Lift Music.
I'll be playing the 1970 discs extensively. The 1988 stuff will have to wait for irritating visitors.
Finally, an observation regarding the packaging. Some reviewers had given me the impression that this was poor. It isn't. It's admittedly fairly minimalist, but it has a simple, unpretentious design, the track listing is clear (although there is an error in one of the track titles), it states clearly where the concerts were played (the errors in that regard are online, not in print), and there's a nice quote from Miles. I was more than happy to put it on the shelf, which already has to accommodate other cases the same size, with the more expensive, more intricately designed stuff.