During the time between Miles Davis’ ’68 Bitches Brew sessions and the Jack Johnson sessions in ’70, Miles entered the studio to record a take on CSN’s “Guinnevere.” Featured on the 1979 anthology Circle in the Round, and again on the Complete Bitches Brew Sessions, this cover finds Miles and company stretching the classic ballad out over an 18 minute electrified, fusion journey. The track features sitar master Ravi Shankar adding his signature Indian drone while Miles lays down unmistakable Bitches-era riffs atop.
This week’s edition of Ambient Alarm Clock focuses on what some might call jazz. The line between jam music and jazz is a line that has little meaning. Improvisation is improvisation. That is why Jerry Garcia played Miles Davis’ music, and Miles Davis played Cindy Lauper’s music.
Miles Davis, Malibu, CA 1989 (Morrison Hotel Gallery)
The selection begins with the same song Count Basie would begin his sets back in the 50s, “April in Paris.” This song features one of the best endings in music, or rather, three of the best endings in music. Next, we move to “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” sung by Billie Holiday. Her backup band at the time was the Benny Goodman group and on this recording you will hear Benny deliver one of his hottest solos. Then, on “Listen to the People,” we have the late Don Pullen playing another best-ever solo on piano.
In 1998, Marc Johnson—a very highly regarded bassist—released an album called The Sound of Summer Running with Bill Frisell and Pat Metheny on guitar. The album’s title track was the first time the pair had recorded together, and features the two of them playing in harmony. We then move to Miles’ cover of Cindy Lauper’s “Time After Time.”
John Coltrane may have been the greatest musician of the 20th century. And, surprisingly for a jazz saxophonist, he actually made the charts with his jammed out version of “My Favorite Things”— one of the greatest musical recordings of all time.
Recently, I had the great pleasure of seeing Jim Hall at the Iridium in NYC. The legendary guitarist—still performing in his 80s—is known for his uncanny use of theory in crafting complex, yet wonderfully melodic solos. One of his best is on the classical Spanish number “Concierto de Aranjuez”. While Miles’ version is great, this one edges slightly ahead.
You may recognize the name Bill Bruford as the drummer who has played in Yes, King Crimson and even a short stint with Genesis. But outside of those projects, Bruford is actually a jazz drummer. Several years back, I made a trip across the pond and caught him playing with Earthworks at Ronnie Scott’s in London. That performance had a massive effect on me, and he has remained my favorite drummer till this day. The selection on today’s playlist is from the band’s 1987 self titled debut, with a drum line very similar to the one he played on King Crimson’s “Discipline.”
Next, Gary Burton and Stephane Grapelli playing the classic Django theme—”Daphne.” This version, from the late 60’s has Django’s long time partner, violinist Stephane Grapelli teamed up with Pat Metheny’s mentor, Gary Burton. And finally, Eric Dolphy’s take on the essential jazz standard “On Green Dolphin Street.”
Today’s playlist was curated by my father who is responsible for all of my musical knowledge. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
1. Count Basie – April in Paris
2. Billie Holiday – What a Little Moonlight Can Do
3. Don Pullen – Listen to the People
4. Marc Johnson – Summer Running
5. Jim Hall – Concierto de Aranjuez
6. Miles Davis – Time After Time
7. John Coltrane – My Favorite Things
8. Bill Bruford’s Earthworks – My Heart Declares a Holiday
9. Gary Burton & Stephane Grapelli – Daphne
10. Eric Dolphy – On Green Dolphin Street
Today marks the 41 year anniversary Miles Davis’ run of shows alongside the Dead at the Fillmore West. The series of performances, curated by Bill Graham, began on April 9, 1970 and continued for the next three nights. April 1970 also coincided with the release of ‘Bitches Brew,” an album that would go on to change music for all time to come. These shows offer a glimpse of Miles’ Quintet during this revolutionary period, and also the influence the music would have on the Grateful Dead in the following years.
It’s my pleasure to be able to share with you a pristine SBD recording of The Miles Davis Quintet’s set from April 9, 1970. This set, capturing groundbreaking early versions of songs such as “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down,” “Spanish Key,” and “Bitches Brew,” is a must-hear for any Miles fan. If I’m not mistaken, we likely owe thanks to Bear Owsley for this recording. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do.
Imagine a festival with Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, The Who, Joni Mitchell, Sly and the Family Stone, Pentangle, Emerson Lake and Palmer, The Moody Blues and The Doors along with many many others. On this day in 1970, the first of five days at the Isle of Wight Festival took place on a small island in England. Largely considered to be the largest musical gathering at the time (until the Summer Jam at Watkins Glen in 1973) the attendance is estimated somewhere between 600,000 and 700,000 people.
This festival was from another time. Performances were constantly interrupted by political activists trying to deliver their messages to the crowd. Numerous musicians who were at the festival for their own enjoyment appeared on stage with other bands such as Zal Yanovsky’s appearance with his former bandmate John Sebastian (both members of the Lovin’ Spoonful).
The final day of the festival, Sunday August 30th was Jimi Hendrix’s final show in the UK. His performance, which is one of his finest, is now considered to be legendary. The Who performed “Tommy” in its entirety and later released their set as Live at the Isle of White 1970. The album, although not as good as Live at Leeds, features some great playing and is packed with energy.
Miles Davis - Isle of Wight 1970
Miles’ performance shows his band in a very transitional phase making yet another stylistic leap forward (much to the dismay of his loyal fans), toward a concept that revolved around extremely loose frames that were mere starting points for improvisation in an electric context. The lineup consists of Miles, Dave Holland, Chic Corea, Keith Jarret Jack DeJohnette, Airto Moreira and Gary Bartz. This concert was one of the first live displays of his new style, which is wildly experimental. Incredible footage of Miles from his performance at the festival is documented on his DVD Miles Electric. Other performances can be seen in the film Message to Love. Both are highly recommended.
Isle of Wight 1970
The following videos from the Isle of Wight Festival, show how great this festival was, and they’re in amazing quality. Jimi’s performance is absolutely mind-blowing with some of the finest guitar playing ever. We love Jimi over here, and this is simply one of the finest examples of his God-like abilities. Miles’ show paved the way for improvisational music, and exhibits the style heard on Tribute to Jack Johnson (read our article on Jack Johnson here). Click here to check out Jimi’s setlist from the show. Enjoy these videos which help us relive the incredible music that took place starting 39 years ago today.
Listen to Jimi perform “Freedom” at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970-8-30.
Jimi performing Voodoo Chile (Slight Return).
Here’s Jimi performing a scorching version of “Machine Gun”, a political song about the Vietnam war (for some reason it won’t allow this video to be embedded, but I urge you to watch it on youtube. This version contains one of his best solos ever played).
“In From the Storm”, the final song Jimi performed at the festival.
Miles jamming on the “Bitches” medley. Absolutely phenomenal.
Miles performing “Bitches Brew”, this performance is wild. Jam music at its finest. Listen to the jam that emerges around 6:00 with a heavy bass groove.
After writing yesterday’s article, The Evolution of Trey’s Tone – Part II, I began thinking further about the factors that have influenced Trey’s most recent tonal change. It is clear that at certain points in Phish’s career they have been influenced by certain musicians more than others. However, there are certain influences that have constantly remained present in Phish’s playing. A Tribute to Jack Johnson by Miles Davis is one of those influences. Completely improvisational, and featuring only two songs, both over 20 minutes, this album is one of the finest pieces of music ever recorded.
In 1971 Miles released A Tribute to Jack Johnson as the soundtrack to a documentary about the boxer Jack Johnson. The album defines jam music in the realest sense. Miles’ band at the time featured Steve Grossman on soprano sax, Michael Henderson on bass, Herbie Hancock on the organ, Billy Cobham on drums, and the legendary John “Mahavishnu” McLaughlin on guitar. A stellar lineup to say the least.
The story goes like this: McLaughlin, Cobham, Grossman and Davis had scheduled a recording session at Columbia studio in New York. As per usual, Miles was late, and so the band began improvising without him. Herbie Hancock, who happened to be in the building at the time, was brought in at the last minute to play organ. The producers began recording, and when Miles showed up late, he liked what he heard. He stepped in the studio, and at 2:19 on the first track“Right Off” Miles begins his solo. The album includes the recordings that occurred at Columbia studio on April 7, 1970 mixed with some of Miles’ solo recordings from 1969.
Miles Davis 1971 (J. Perrson)
The music is a raw sounding improvisational form of fusion jazz. Characterized by Miles’ outside modal playingand McLaughlin’s gritty guitar sound, Jack Johnson borders on funk-rock. This album has always been one of my favorites, as it takes the listener on a transcendent musical journey. The chaotic highpoints blended together with the melodic plateaus provide contour to the musical landscapes. The playing is tight yet highly exploratory.
Jack Johnson, above all, is a timeless piece of music. Even though it was released in 1970, the music sounds as though it is brand new. The playing on the album was extremely groundbreaking, as it brought the spirit of both rock and funk music to jazz. Using electric instruments in this fashion was nearly unheard of at the time. Very few, if any, jazz musicians were using distortion effects such as the one used by McLaughlin on the album.
The first song “Right Off” begins with an edgy, funky groove. The groove never quite leaves the song, as it delves into ambiance, before returning back to finish the song off. The second song “Yesternow” lifts the bass line from James Brown’s “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud”, and features some alternate musicians, such as Dave Holland and Chick Corea, in parts. Miles’ playing on both tracks features some of his most complex and tightest music ever recorded. This piece of music is loaded with energy blurring all lines between musical genres.
Beginning with Silent Way in 1969, and then Bitches Brew in 1970, Miles introduced a highly innovative sound to jazz music. Using electric instruments and accompanied by a guitar, Miles’ bands were a cross between jazz, rock and funk. Although not as commercially successful as the prior album Bitches Brew, Jack Johnson exhibits what many feel is the finest playing of all three. In a 1995 interview with Addicted to Noise, Trey said the following with regard to the album:
“Right now I think Miles is probably the cutting edge in every stage along his career. I’ve been really heavily influenced by this Miles Davis album, A Tribute to Jack Johnson. John McLaughlin plays on it, and he plays really differently from how he normally plays, he’s in a great space on that album, and I think that’s really affected me a lot, that whole kind of style. And Miles influenced a lot of these rock bands, like the Dead or something.”
Interesting little factoid: The intro music to disc 2 of A Live One is part of “Right Off”.
Listen to “Right Off”, the first track off Jack Johnson. Pay close attention at 2:19 as Miles comes in with his soaring modal solo (if you are unfamiliar with the modes check out our article on them: Modal Exploration). Give this one a bit of time to load, its quite long, but well worth it.
Also, in 2004 Trey recorded a session with Herbie Hancock at the farmhouse. Below is one of the recordings from that session showing some of the same type of improvisational playing as is heard on Jack Johnson.