I’m about 10 minutes into “Paraphernalia” on the recently reissued Miles at The Fillmore and I feel like I’m coming down from some bad trip. Not the kind of trip you’d have with your pals in mom and dad’s basement on a Saturday afternoon. Not a sugar buzz, or LSD. No, like some back alley fix with Mr. Brownstone. Sort of a psychotic breakdown in the midst of some hedonistic mirage brought on by opiates mainlined from a syringe. Electric piano creates this funky vibe, as funky as demonic possession goes. Drums create a tribal beat to lose your soul to while Miles’ trumpet creates the melody in the insanity. It’s a jarring experience, and one that I’m sure was overpowering for anyone sitting in the audience at the Fillmore on April 11, 1970. Though, not all of the performances captured here are from April 11, 1970. June 17th through the 20th of 1970 were also dates captured for this collection. Originally released as a double album with extremely edited versions of the songs, this epic and phenomenal album is now presented in its full glory with Davis’ full performances. You don’t get just the rock bits and heavy funk. You get all the beautiful space in-between. You get four hours of a headspace that mere mortals cannot handle for more than 20 minutes at a time without losing their grasp on sanity. This is not for the weak of heart or mind.
I’m a fan. I fell hard for Miles Davis, and a couple months ago I was scouring Discogs for all those lesser known albums that surrounded Bitches Brew and beyond. One in-particular was Big Fun. That record, from what I read, was just supposed to be leftovers from various sessions that never got properly released. To my ears, it’s one of Davis’ best albums from this era. Spacious, psychedelic, and at times teasingly sparse. Not every nook and cranny is filled with Miles blowing his horn. In fact, it’s a spacious set of songs that I can pretty much listen to on a daily basis. “Go Ahead John” being the most straight up rock track, but still Teo Macero does some amazing things with stereo panning that makes the track all the more special.
But hey, I’m supposed to be talking about Miles at The Fillmore.
This is a dense set of tunes, and at 4 hours I’d recommend it in smaller doses. If you’re painting walls or something, this could be good to have on as you’re working. But if you’re looking for something to listen to whilst sitting on the couch sipping a stout, definitely mix it up with some lighter fare. After a short introduction the crew goes into “Directions” which is a messy and noisy number that Davis’ band was known for at the time. His band is exemplary with Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett on keys, Steve Grossman on sax, Dave Holland on bass, Jack DeJohnette on drums, and Davis on trumpet. This is a much tighter post-Bitches Brew band than he later sported with the live Pangaea and Agharta albums(both very good in their own right.) With a rhythm section of Holland and DeJohnette sloppy isn’t an option. “The Mask” is like a fever-ish nightmare brought on by opiates and broken aspirations. “It’s About That Time” is nearly an experimental number with whistles and what sounds like the cash registers in Pink Floyd’s “Money”. It’s all pent up aggresion quietly sitting in the bushes waiting for you to take your eyes away for a second so it can pounce. They then go into a nearly 14 minute version of “Bitches Brew” that has a tribal vibe to it. You almost expect someone to start reading from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The double trouble duo of Corea and Jarrett create the dark funk that pushes this piece so well. Bitches Brew plays heavy on this four hour set, with different versions of the same tracks popping up from time to time. One of my favorite tracks on this collection is “Miles Runs The Voodoo Down”, a gritty rendition that slithers and slides like a snake. You can almost feel the grit on this one. I love how this band can drop the theatrics and tension and just let loose. Speaking of let loose, towards the end of this set the band jumps into the Jack Johnson Sessions’ “Willie Nelson” and lay down some excellent funky goodness. The loose grooves of “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” and “Willie Nelson” are a welcome treat for the ears in a dense set of mostly dark, serious fusion.
I recommend this album to anyone who considers themselves a true fan of Davis’ early to mid 70s output, and especially those that actually owned this vinyl when it first came out. You’re in for a real treat. For once, Macero’s editing prowess didn’t enhance this set. It neutered it. These tracks back to their massive, dense, and original form show an artist and his band at their most creative and confrontational.
9.5 out of 10