Monday, January 4, 2010

The Importance of "Bitches Brew"

Miles Davis
Bitches Brew
(Columbia; 1969)

To say Miles Davis recorded quite a few influential albums is silly. But of those few, none can be more important than Bitches Brew. Bitches Brew was a defining moment in jazz history in that it singled-handedly created the term jazz-rock and jazz-fusion. The year, 1969, was a time of change on all fronts (politics, life and music). Bitches Brew was a mirror of the time and a door way for the future.

Assembled by Miles and longtime producer Teo Macero, Bitches Brew is an album that would influence almost every musician from every genre since. Miles had put together an ensemble cast of musicians, many of whom were becoming highly influential themselves (Joe Zawinul (piano/keyboards), Chick Corea (piano/keyboards), Wayne Shorter (sax), Dave Holland (bass), John McLaughlin (guitar), Jack DeJohnette (drums) to name a few. The album itself grew out of a series of live dates during the beginning of the year as Miles started to introduce new material into the band before the first studio session.

As some of you may already know the striking moment came after the Woodstock Festival and the extra impetus Miles had after witnessing the funk soul sets of Sly & The Family Stone and Jimi Hendrix. Miles would use that energy in the Bitches Brew sessions for more improvised and experimental interaction with the band, all the while still having a vision of a completely different direction of the music. The album flourished with blues, funk, rock, psychedelia and jazz--all pushed to the limits with extraordinary results. It also contains a heavy use of electric guitar, keyboards, bass and distortion on Miles' already muted trumpet. Miles would later incorporate the electric guitar fully into his repertoire after this album.

At the time, you wouldn't have known what to think of Miles' as this record is pouring out of your speakers or at a live concert. This is an album that continues to astound every time I put it on. Tracks like "Pharaoh's Dance", "Sanctuary" and my personal favourite "Miles Runs The Voodoo Down," demonstrates how aggressive, experimental and "out there" Miles was thinking at the time. Bitches Brew many be a classic example of experimentation but that doesn't mean the uninitiated should avoid it. It is an album of sheer beauty and depth that forces you to examine every other album you may own that came after 1970 to see how it was influenced.

Bitches Brew is a road map for many musicians. A road map that says the road is limitless. For those of you interested there are two versions available; the two disc original album (with bonus track) and the four disc deluxe version which I highly recommend to give the full picture of the recording session. The four disc set is a lot of money and probably only for the die-hard, but it you should definitely treat yourself to one of the versions if possible. This is important history.


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