Miles Davis: Bitches Brew

2010 marks the 40th Anniversary of the release of one of Miles Davis’ most important and controversial recordings: Bitches Brew. To mark the occasion, Sony/Columbia is releasing a couple new versions of the album. One is a 3 disc Legacy edition, which contains the original 2 disc album with a couple of alternate takes and edited singles, along with a previously unreleased DVD of a 1969 concert shortly after this album was recorded. The full-blown 40th Anniversary set contains the above 3 discs with a 4th live recording CD from 1970, as well as a poster and 2 disc vinyl reproduction of the original album.

Although it was not the first album to blend jazz and rock (in fact, not even the first from Miles), it was the one that exploded onto the musical scene and set the course of jazz for at least the next 15 years. It is a percolating hodge-podge of studio layering, editing, and looping that sowed the seeds for the jazz rock revolution. Every important fusion band from the 70’s is represented among the sidemen of this album: Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, & Airto Moreira would go on to form Weather Report, Herbie Hancock & Bennie Maupin from Mwandishi and the Headhunters, Chick Corea, Lenny White, and Moreira from Return to Forever, John McLaughlin & Billy Cobham from the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and McLaughlin & Larry Young would join with the recently departed Tony Williams to form Lifetime. Bitches Brew became jazz’s first gold record and is the main reason Miles is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It is included in Rolling Stones Top 500 albums. Miles’ acoustic quintet of the 60’s with Herbie Hancock and Tony Williams pushed the boundaries of traditional jazz about as far as they could go. Miles was feeling somewhat out of touch with younger black crowds and wanted a way to advance his music and connect with that audience. The sounds of Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, and Sly Stone were in the air and suggested a way forward for him. For the purists among the jazz critics, this is the album where Miles stopped making jazz. For the rest of us, this is where it got really interesting.

Complete 40th Anniversary Set

As a young 14-year-old aspiring jazz musician, this was the first Miles album I ever heard. It had all my heroes on it. Most of my friends who were into Return to Forever and Herbie Hancock couldn’t seem to get their ears around it, but for me, it was a trip out of this world. It still sounds fresh, forty years later. Miles sounds confident, if not downright agressive against the rumbling rhythm section with multiple keyboards, basses, and drums. The added textures of Wayne Shorter’s soprano sax, Bennie Maupin’s bass clarinet, and John McLaughlin’s stabbing guitar lines threw more ingredients into the potent mix. No one in today’s jazz scene is even coming close to making the innovative sounds and grooves that Bitches Brew contains.  (And of course, the funky album art was pretty trend setting, too!)

Buy It Here:

Suggested Viewing:

Promo Video Clips for the 40th Anniversary Set (Part One) (Part Two)

Suggested Reading:

Philip Freeman. Running the Voodoo Down: The Electric Music of Miles Davis.