on 18 October 2010
This 40th anniversary edition of Miles Davis Bitches Brew is beautifully produced and a reminder of the furore that greeted it on its release .Many used to the melodic records of the previous decade or more did not understand it or like it much though they recognized Davis, virtuosity and inventiveness.Even today it has none of the accessibility or wide appeal of the previous decades Kind of Blue.Even after 4o years it is not exactly an easy listen but parts of it are works of genius Some tagged this the first Jazz Rock Record,some one of the greatest Rock records ever made and more still would see it as one of the most influential recordings ever made.I am certain that Davis himself would have had no patience with any attempt to pigeon hole him and went on developing his music until the end of his life.
Bitches Brew is not an easy listen.You,like me,might start by hating it but with repeated listening you will hopefully, like myself ,grow to love it.Someone once spoke of the 'shock of the new' Even after 40 years and much imitative music since this still has the power to shock. It is an essential purchase,but please don't throw it in the bin after the first listening
on 20 November 2003
There are two ways to listen to Bitches Brew, probably, in my opinion, one of the greatest pieces of music ever recorded. One way is to sit and listen and try to analyse and be a critic. This way you have to be knowledgeable about what came before and after in jazz or improvised music. The other way is to walk around whilst you're listening - drink some wine, play with your children (they love the freedom in this music), snarl and grunt like Miles does, play 'air trumpet' in that 'walking on eggshells' way in which Miles played his instrument. This way you will be true to (I think) Miles' intentions in making this album. This music is constantly searching. In the best of the improvised or even the modern European musical tradition, it is all content and form goes out the window. The trick to appreciating this music is to recognise that it is of the moment. You can enjoy repeated listening but each time will not be like the time before. These are not songs, more snippets of melody backed by a gargantuan backing band who push and kick Miles to respond, ever moving, ever reaching. You CAN dance to this music (if you like) and although it was recorded in a time before the modern obsession (in popular music anyway) with style, with standardisation, with safety - you are allowed, I think, to ENJOY it.
The best track on the album for a newcomer to jazz or improvised music is 'Miles Runs the Voodoo Down' which has a compelling vamp kind of rhythmic movement that pulls you into the music. The must hear track however, once you have got to grips with the actual sound, which is quite 'other-wordly', is the title track where Miles plays to himself through the echoplex - quite haunting. Another album that shares a similar style to this with its use of multiple electric pianos is Joe Zawinul's (another player on BB) excellent 'Zawinul' (1971).
The sound on this issue of BB is also much cleaned up from the original which was a bit of a mush. I would advise anyone who is serious about actually appreciating musical sound to buy this album. The tracks really are like little pieces of the great Miles's thoughts cut up and jumbled around and then stuck back together. It is funny though, and it perhaps says something about our rock tradition in music, that if the lead instrument here was an electric guitar (say like Hendrix or Radiohead), nobody would be saying anything about not being able to understand it or it being difficult or 'a noise'. Because it is a trumpet and a trumpet is not meant to sound like this, everyone is not sure. I think this was Miles's intention behind recording this album: ever the musical revolutionary he wanted to say forget about what you know and what has come before, this is a new direction.
This music will linger with you long after you have first heard it and it does repay you - honest. Give yourself a chance and buy this wonderful album.
on 5 September 2010
Most people reading this review will probably be familiar with the 40 year old classic Jazz/Fusion album 'Bitches Brew' and are probably asking themselves whether its worthwile buying this new Legacy 2CD + DVD edition. This set features the original double album, an additional 2 alternate takes of ` Spanish Key' and ` John McLaughlin' and the 45 rpm single edits of `Miles Runs The Voodoo Down', `Spanish Key', ` Great Expectations' and `Little Blue Frog' plus a DVD of a live concert filmed in Copenhagen in 1969.
This really is a great box set to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Miles first `Gold Album', and probably its the closest that Jazz/fusion ever came to rock music.
Whilst, if you have the original album and/or the Complete Bitches Brew sessions, you would have the majority of the audio content, this is still a very worthwhile purchase if you appreciate this era of Miles music, where he came close to being the Jimi Hendrix of his genre. 'Bitches Brew' still features in the Rolling Stone Greatest 100 albums of all time and I highly recommend this edition of what I consider to one of the best albums from 1970s, as the additional audio material and previously unreleased DVD concert from Copenhagen make this essential for people who enjoy Miles late 60's/early 70's music.
It is hard, 37 years on to imagine the impact this album had on its release in early 1970. It out sold all Miles' previous albums in its first year, inspired a new movement in jazz, and crossed musical boundaries, yet it led conservative jazz critic Stanley Crouch, amongst others, to dismiss it as an act of 'self violation'
Miles had already taken steps down the path of fusion, the use of electric instruments and rock sounds in jazz, with Filles do Kilamanjaro and especially In A Silent Way. However this was a much louder, bolder, brasher statement. This was the point of no return.
This controversial classic was both a logical continuation of where Miles' music was going, and a groundbreaking, unique album, which still sounds fresh exciting and compelling today. It incorporates a range of influences Miles was bringing to his music: jazz improvisation, blues, Jimi Hendrix inspired rock, African grooves and rhythms, Sly Stone and James Brown inspired funk.
The same principles of a deep groove laid down by layers of rhythm, electric keyboards and guitar, and of post performance studio editing and reconstruction, follow on directly from In A Silent Way. The sound though, is much denser and heavier, with bass clarinet, thudding electric bass and powerful rock backbeats and African rhythm adding to the 'brew' to create a swampy, menacing and bottom heavy texture.
Over the top, Miles is the main solo voice, his trumpet deliberately louder in the mix than the solos of guitarist John McLaughlin and Wayne Shorter on soprano sax, both of whom emerge more subtly through the dense backdrop. In this sense, Miles was to some extent retreading a fusion version of the call and response work on Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain where he was the lone solo voice over the orchestral ensemble, only here the ensemble was far noisier, abstract and experimental. His playing is magnificent on this album, some of his most powerful and declamatory soloing on record, with just the odd touches of mournful vulnerability, made more poignant by their scarcity.
While an atmosphere and sound pervades the whole album, the 2 discs neatly contrast with the first 2 tracks being lengthy studio reconstructions, heavily edited from experimental jams with a minimal theme, and the shorter tracks on disc 2 being untouched complete studio takes, released as they were recorded.
Both Pharoahs Dance and the title track are fascinating examples of post production, and while mostly compelling, are less immediate and obviously structured, and both would have benefitted from a little more trimming. Pharoahs Dance slowly creates an atmosphere, the 'theme' of which is only played towards the end by Miles, otherwise only hinted at before, but it somehow makes sense of the previous 16 minutes. B Brew itself is a little too long, but the opening and repeated 'call and response' fanfare is beautifully done, one of the most memorable parts of the album, with Miles' trumpet calls treated with reverb and echo to give a more majestic sound.
The standout track for me, and one of the finest things he ever recorded, is Spanish Key. It follows in a long line of Spanish/Flamenco flavoured tracks Miles recorded: Blues For Pablo, Flamenco Sketches, the Sketches of Spain album, Teo. In fact, as is pointed out in the liner notes, it is related to Flamenco Sketches also in its structure, the use of scales and key centres, cued at the improvisers will. The tighter structure of Spanish Key, obvious solo spots and continuations from his previous work make a nonsense to some of the critics claims at the time that Miles was abandoning jazz in his search for new sounds and forms.
The dancing rhythm and thudding bass line propel the track along with extra rhythmic sounds from Don Alias. Miles plays with passion ecomomy and precision, slowly building tension to fever pitch in the first few minutes, while in his second solo, he briefly slows things down with some beautiful haunting and lonely phrases, as the rhythm dies down to a whisper before picking up again for the final coda. In between, McLaughlin and Shorter solo from deeper in the mix but to great effect. A brilliant track from start to finish.
The bluesy Miles Runs The Voodoo Down is similarly more approachable than disc 1, but is slower, prowling along like a big cat stalking its prey. Miles gradually and powerfully builds up a head of steam, no hint of vulnerability here, then sits back until the ensemble reaches a messy peak of intensity before he returns at the end.
Sanctuary is curiously made up of 2 separate takes simply glued together, when just one would possibly have been more effective. It is by far the most becalmed thing on the album, but still has an underlying unsettled, restless feel and is an effective closer.
All these tracks were recorded on just 3 days, in August 1969, but were not unleashed on the world until April 1970, when Miles had already recorded several other studio sessions, breaking further new experimantal ground, which is fully documented on 'The Complete BB Sessions'
This album stands as it is though, and is one of the most fascinating albums amongst Miles' vastly varied output. The dense new music is not always successful, as there are passages which are a little cluttered or lacking in direction, but for the most part this is remarkable, trailblazing and thrilling music.
on 8 October 2000
I mainly want to take issue with some of the other reviewers, who make listening to Bitches Brew sound like hard work. For me it was a pure pleasure from the first spin. Far from being difficult to get into, I found it groovy, dazzling, sumptuous and sexy. If ears could have orgasms, mine would listening to this! Anyone who's open-minded enough to give it a go shouldn't have any problem with it. If the other reviewers have scared you, then ease yourself in with In A Silent Way, the record Miles made just before this with some of the same personnel, which in today's idiom is kind of a chill-out room to Bitches Brew's dancefloor. But if I were you I'd just go for it. In spite of all its experimentalism, its extended jams, and the intellectual baggage it's accumulated over the years, above all Bitches Brew ROCKS. It's a blast!
on 8 September 2010
This latest edition is worth it for the Copenhagan DVD alone - space age jazz, with Dave Holland still on acoustic bass (and doing some remarkable things, including an uncanny "impersonation" of Miles at one point), but with Chick Corea on Fender Rhodes. This is the "lost quintet" - thankfully, these days some of the extraordinary music they made has been found, and the DVD is yet another revelation for us. By Isle of Wight less than a year later the music was getting funkier (with Holland by now on Fender bass) - it's a shame that Columbia are saving the Tanglewood session, around the same time as Isle of Wight, with Gary Bartz on saxes and Keith Jarrett doubling with Corea on keyboards for those who can afford the deluxe edition - it can, however, be found at Wolfgang's Vault and is, of course, extraordinary. By the end of the year Michael Henderson was in Holland's shoes and the music had changed yet again, into something funky, primal and quite scarily intense, and bearing little resemblance to the Copenhagan set (Live/Evil; the Cellar Door Sessions). All great music, of course - that was Miles, who was playing the most powerfully brilliant trumpet of his career (probably).
Bitches Brew still blows my mind - as Paul Buckmaster says on the Isle of Wight DVD, it is so intense at times that one can hardly take it. I've no idea how many times I've listened to BB since first hearing it in 1970, but I've no doubt I will return to it again and again.
on 20 October 2003
There are those who find the journey from "Kind of Blue" to "Bitches Brew" too arduous. That in itself is part of the story of "Bitches Brew". Miles himself wouldn't have had it any other way. [He refused to play material from previous eras. He said it "embarrassed" him.] He made the journey and so must we. The rewards stretch out in front of the listener like a stairway to heaven. The roll-call of the musicians on this album is second to none, not even the great "KoB" quintet. With this music, Miles buried any possiblity that comforting, comfortable covers would be played in hotel lounges or heard over hubbub in airport concourses. This is jazz's Shostakovich, poking Stalin in the eye; Stravinsky erupting in Paris to furious uproar with "The Rite of Spring". Like the trek up Kilimanjairo, nobody said it was going to be easy. But everything Miles stood for is here: the haunting tonality of his own playing, the freedom given to his musicians to reach beyond themselves, the courage it took to take yet another step beyond what anyone expected or even understood. And for us, the fabulous gift that he succeeded.
on 4 July 2011
A few years ago, my brother bought me my first jazz album; Miles Davis' 'A Kind of Blue'. After a couple of years of listening to the cool, laid back music of this album, I felt ready to explore Davis' other work. I was quite surprised to find that, a few years after 'A Kind of Blue', he had delved into much more experimental and extended forms, with weird and wonderful tracks stretching beyond the 20 minute mark. Being a progressive rock fan, I leapt on what was said to be another of his key works, the double album 'Bitches Brew'.
I was quite literally buzzing with excitement when I first heard it! It was so energetic, fresh, unpredictable and trippy. For example, the first track plays for a couple of minutes only to 'reset' itself (via a tape loop) and replay the exact same recorded sounds a second time. This was revolutionary stuff at the time and still sounds it.
I haven't yet digested the album fully as it is so packed with content that it's impossible to grasp it fully after even half a dozen listenings. But, nevertheless, I can say with confidence that this album is fantastic and has shown me that jazz can be weird and epic in the same way as progressive rock or classical.
If one was able to plot a path from (or interpolate between) Filles de Kilimanjaro and In A Silent Way (on the one hand) across to Jack Johnson (on the other), you might approximate to where Miles Davis was with this ground-breaking 1970 work. Certainly, John McLaughlin’s guitar, in particular, is given freer rein here (and his playing is moving in the general direction of the 'rockier’ Jack Johnson), but overall Bitches Brew is an altogether more expansive and diverse undertaking than the 'surrounding’ albums. It’s difficult (if not impossible) to imagine anyone other than a musician as open-minded as Davis who could conceive of such a project, melding the improvisational instincts of a band of upwards of a dozen musicians, and then (for some of the music here) editing various parts of the sessions to provide what comes across as a seamless whole. In terms of inspiring 'new music’ and, in many cases, 'new’ (or at least, relatively inexperienced) musicians – something for which Davis was renowned – Bitches Brew is a match for all the man’s legendary other band collaborations (with the likes Gil Evans, Gerry Mulligan, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Marcus Miller, etc).
Davis’ horn, Shorter’s sax and McLaughlin’s guitar lead the way, but the three-pronged keyboard backing from Joe Zawinal, Chick Corea and Larry Young, plus the haunting bass clarinet of Bernie Maupin are equally defining sounds for the album. Whether it be the stunning staccato playing by Davis on the album’s title track, the driving rhythm of Spanish Key, the emergent funk influence of (for me, a particular highlight) Miles Runs The Voodoo Down or the brilliant use of punctuation, space and pacing in each of Sanctuary and Feio (the latter featuring some remarkable use of the cuica drum by Airto Moreira), Bitches Brew is an album whose appeal and hidden qualities continue to be revealed over time.
on 28 June 2012
This is not really a review, more of an informative comment.
This early CD issue of Bitches Brew (under the "CBS Jazz Masterpieces" branding) is currently the *only* way to hear the original 1970 vinyl LP mix of the album on CD outside of a rare Japanese mini-LP release from 1996 (Mastersound, SRCCS 9118-9).
All of the American/European CD remasters use a modern remix. When the remixers went back to the mastertapes they found they needed to recreate the echo effect on Miles' trumpet. This they did using modern digital technology, but due to the inherent constraints of digital replication the trumpet echo on the remix was left slightly mistimed. If you've never heard the original album it won't sound wrong, but if you were a fan of Bitches Brew on vinyl or cassette you'll probably quite clearly notice the difference in echo delay. It's also been reported that a modern edit during Pharoah's Dance throws the whole measure off by one beat.
So if you want to hear Bitches Brew as it was originally mixed and released, this early CD issue is your only easy-to-acquire option.
But. And sadly it's not a good "but".
Take note! Something happened during the mastering process for this early CD issue which left the recording sounding a bit too bassy and somewhat muffled.
So you pays your money and you takes your choice. A clean modern mastering with altered timings and new edits, or the original and untouched mix sounding a bit murky.
As for the music, I won't even risk attempting to describe it. I would however say that I've discovered the perfect time to play this album is during a rainy summer's day....with the window open to give you a background noise of light breeze and gently spattering rain. There's something about the ebb and flow of this album which seems to meld very naturally with the rhythm of that type of weather. That might sound crazy, but try it!
So, to conclude. 5 stars out of 5 for the music, 3 stars out of 5 for the mastering.... which I calculate makes for an overall Amazon rating of 4 stars.