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Bitches Brew
Miles Davis

Columbia 26 [2]
Released: April 1970
Chart Peak: #35
Weeks Charted: 29
Certified Gold: 5/13/76

Miles DavisMiles' music continues to grow in its beauty, subtlety and sheer magnificence. Bitches' Brew is a further extension of the basic idea he investigated in his two previous albums, Filles De Kilimanjaro and In A Silent Way. In a larger sense, however, the record is yet another step in the unceasing process of evolution Miles has undergone since the Forties. The man never stops to rest on his accomplishments. Driven forward by a creative elan unequaled in the history of American music, he incorporates each successive triumph into the next leap forward.

The wonderful thing about Miles' progress is that he encourages others to grow with him. Within the context of his sound there is more than enough room for both his musicians and his listeners to pursue their own special visions. Looking back on the history of Miles' ensemble, we find the likes of John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Tony Williams, Ron Carter, and Wayne Shorter. He always seems to select the best young jazzmen in the country and then gives them the freedom to develop their own unique modes of playing. Miles is known to be a stern disciplinarian, but never a tyrant. When a man has performed with the group long enough to gain a firm footing, he leaves as a recognized giant on his instrument.

The present Miles Davis organization is certainly no exception to this tradition. There is more pure talent here than in any group of any kind currently performing. Chick Corea's piano is so full of technical and conceptual innovation that one is caught between a feeling of wonderment and the gnawing question, "I wonder how he does all those things?" It was about a year ago that a Downbeat reviewer went totally ga-ga trying to understand Chick's playing (he gave it "no stars" and complained about how far out it was), so rather than risk the record reviewer's funny farm I'll just ask you to listen to it.

Dave Holland's bass and Jack DeJonette's drums lay down the amorphous rhythmic patterns for Miles' electrified sound. To put it briefly, these chaps have discovered a new way to cook, a way that seems just as natural and just as swinging as anything jazz has ever known. The soloists on the album -- Wayne Shorter on soprano sax, Bennie Maupin on bass clarinet and John McLaughlin on electric guitar -- are fully accustomed to this new groove and take one solid solo after another.

The freedom which Miles makes available to his musicians is also there for the listener. If you haven't discovered it yet, all I can say is that Bitches' Brew is a marvelous place to start. This music is so rich in its form and substance that it permits and even encourages soaring flights of imagination by anyone who listens. If you want, you can experience it directly as a vast tapestry of sounds which envelop your whole being. You'll discover why fully one third of the audience at Miles' recent Fillmore West appearances left the hall in stunned silence, too deeply moved to want to stay for the other groups on the bill. As a personal matter, I also enjoy Miles' music as a soft background context for when I want to read a book or think deeply. In its current form, Miles' music bubbles and boils like some gigantic cauldron. As the musical ideas rise to the surface, the listener also finds his thoughts rising from the depths with a new clarity and precision. Miles is an invaluable companion for those long journeys you take into your imagination.

But don't let my cerebral bent influence your listening. Whatever your temperament, Bitches' Brew will reward in direct proportion to the depth of your own involvement.

- Langdon Winner, Rolling Stone, 5/28/70.

Bonus Reviews!

If this historic set is about any one thing it's electric-meets-acoustic: the theme of the twenty-seven minute title side, in which Miles's horn combines with an electric instrument for a two-note motif that's suddenly resolved after a dozen repetitions in a single echoed trumpet blat, says it all. But it's not about any one thing -- it's a brilliant wash of ideas, so many ideas that it leaves an unfocused impression. That's probably why I don't return to it as I do the quieter electric-meets-acoustic of In a Silent Way, although maybe it's just that this one rocks less -- three different percussionists replace Tony Williams, whose steady pulse is put aside for subtle shades of Latin and funk polyrhythm that never gather their requisite fervor. Enormously suggestive, and never less than enjoyable, but not quite compelling. Which is what rock is supposed to be. A-

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

No jazz collection is complete without this double LP (which has since been reissued as a double CD). This very influential set was one of the first successful attempts to form a new music (soon termed fusion) by combining jazz solos with rock rhythms. "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down" is the most memorable of the six lengthy selections, featuring a fascinating ensemble with Davis's trumpet, Wayne Shorter's soprano, Bennie Maupin's bass clarinet, guitarist John McLaughlin, the keyboards of Chick Corea and Larry Young (Joe Zawinul is on some of the other selections), Dave Holland and Harvey Brooks on basses, drummers Jack DeJohnette, Charles Alias and Lenny White and percussionist Jim Riley. Not for the close-minded, this music brought many rock listeners into jazz and gave jazz musicians new possibilities to explore. * * * * *

- Scott Yanow, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

Still the most influential and respected jazz-rock recording. * * * * *

- Richie Unterberger, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

Bitches Brew supplements all of In a Silent Way's players except drummer Tony Williams with more future fusion all-stars -- including multiple drummers who add layers of rhythmic complexity on one of the greatest albums made in any genre. * * * * *

- Steve Holtje, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

They don't call him Miles for nothing -- the iconclast takes a gargantuan leap forward on a milestone in the transformation of jazz. Everyone who was anyone in what was to become fusion is on this classic, including Chick Corea on keys and Wayne Shorter on sax. With tasty snippets from great players thrown against a backdrop of noise, an album that angered as many critics as it influenced musicians is so funky and hypnotic, it casts a voodoo spell that gets you groovin' at every listen. * * * * *

- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.

Few albums elicited as much controversy upon their release as Bitches Brew. Of course for Miles, who had thrown his audience a curveball on a couple of occasions, this kind of notoriety was nothing new. But what proved enduring about Bitches Brew was that it didn't just represent another brief foray for its creator -- indeed, the electronic preoccupation was a lasting phase that would continue throughout the remainder of Davis's career.

At the time, Miles's embrace of electric instruments embittered purists, but it was typical of Davis's whole modus operandi as a jazz provocateur and changeling. At the same time, it won him a whole new audience and made him a superstar in the multidimensional and ever-widening rock scene. He became a fixture at legendary rock auditoriums like the Fillmore. He also forged a new approach to electric jazz that was directly responsible for the birth of fusion. Far from being just an interesting experiment, Bitches Brew qualifies as one of those albums responsible for spawning a whole new genre of music.

One can hear this music unfurl in six tracks that make up this double album: the big-band-on-acid maelstrom of "Pharoah's Dance"; the cross-pollinating rhythms of "John McLaughlin"; the New Orleans-by-way-of-Venus bleating of "Miles Runs Down the Voodoo"; the urban funk sprawl of "Spanish Key"; the tranquil glaze of saxophonist Wayne Shorter's "Sanctuary"; and the sinewy funk of "Bitches Brew" itself.

In the end, perhaps what was most impressive about Bitches Brew was that it achieved what all such similar high-reaching musical experiments aim to do, which is that it sounded like nothing else ever recorded before. Meanwhile, the influence of Bitches Brew still resonates in the percolating rhythms and embryonic textures of fusionaires -- as well as math-rockers -- everywhere.

Bitches Brew was voted the 64th greatest album of all time in a VH1 poll of over 700 musicians, songwriters, disc jockeys, radio programmers, and critics in 2003.

- Joe S. Harrington, VH1's 100 Greatest Albums, 2003.

In February 1969, Davis recorded In a Silent Way, a bold step into ambient funk and electric futurism that inspired the trumpeter to go further out at the sessions for Bitches Brew that August. Davis wanted, he said, "the best damn rock & roll band in the world," to connect jazz with the forward motion of Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone. Davis' band was superbad (Joe Zawinul, John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter, etc.) But the word fusion was never big enough to describe the visceral thrill of these explosive studio explorations and the pioneering tape-edit wizardry of producer Teo Macero, arguably the original Chemical Brother.

Bitches Brew was chosen as the 94th greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.

- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.

Recording sessions for Bitches Brew began at 8 a.m. on August 18, 1969, a few hours after Jimi Hendrix had demolished "The Star Spangled Banner" at Woodstock, and it is Hendrix's incendiary voice that haunts this double album. Miles wanted to recreate the loose-limbed jam sessions of Electric Ladyland but, like the most interesting homages, Bitches Brew sounds nothing like its source. Nor does it resemble the "jazz-rock" that it pioneered. The backbeats are relatively orthodox -- whipcrack rimshots, rumbling kick drums, and rubbery basslines borrowed from Sly And The Family Stone. Everything else is from another planet.

The sheer density of the music is often symphonic. At some points there are three keyboards -- Chick Corea, Larry Young, and Joe Zawinul -- all playing clashing, dissonant chord clusters. There are two bassists -- Ron Carter and Dave Holland -- set against the serpentine baritone voicings of Benny Maupin's bass clarinet. Up to three kit drummers and another three percussionists lay down hypnotic grooves that would hook in the Grateful Dead fans.

Soaring over the top is the quiet storm of Miles' Harmon-muted horn, Wayne Shorter's granite-hard soprano sax, and the finely controlled chaos of John McLaughlin's guitar. All improvised freely, borrowing from modal jazz, free improv, and Indo-Arabic themes.

Bitches Brew sold half a million copies within a year and made Miles "relevant" in a way that he had not been in more than a decade. He had reclaimed his crown as the king of jazz, something he retained until his death 20 years later.

- John Lewis, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.

If there's such a thing as night music, this is it: a beat like a resting pulse, steady and shallow. Lugubrious bass clarinet rattling around in the cellar. Long expanses of no melody whatsoever, where nothing much happens. Appearing now and then is Miles Davis, spearing trumpet lonesomeness into the abyss. The musicians travel from light ethnic jazz to deep rock backbeats, and exchange thoughts as though they're involved in a marathon late-night dorm room conversation, where the pressure's off and any outlandish idea gets serious consideration.

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The shadows and ripples of Bitches Brew are not, however, entirely organic -- they're the result of an unusual studio sleight-of-hand. Like its brooding predecessor In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew was put together in the editing room. To arrive at the "final" compositions, Davis and producer Tom Macero sifted through hours of jamming, organizing individual solos and transitional lulls into an after-the-fact cosmic order. At times this approach, the reverse of typical jazz record-making, imposes structure where none was evident; at other times, thematic ideas are inserted, to contrast with the interplay.

Bitches Brew retains the feeling of spontaneous exhange between members of an astounding band (whose three keyboardists were Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul, and Keith Jarrett), while retrofitting those exchanges with a minimal framework. The 2003 expanded edition, which includes the previously unreleased source jams in their wandering entirety, shows how the editing was integral to the final product: The jams could be endless and drifty, but the tracks of the "finished" Bitches Brew somehow feel like a cogent whole. It became a staple of nighttime programming on free-form FM radio (tales of DJs slapping on Side One, which contains the twenty-minute "Pharoah's Dance," and then sneaking out for a toke are legion), and its deep moods set the tone for much of the jazz-fusion that followed.

The editing isn't the only studio sleight-of-hand involved in Bitches Brew: Amazingly, this music of nocturnal emotions was recorded during the day. Keyboardist Corea, whose distorted electric piano is one spark plug among many, recalls that the sessions began every morning, promptly at ten. "I remember several of us grumbling about having to get up so early to make the session. What's amazing to me now is the mood. If I didn't know, I'd say this went down at three in the morning."

- Tom Moon, 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, 2008.

Miles Davis wanted to connect with fans of Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone. The result was this jazz-rock double album, cut in three days of improvisations with an electric orchestra that included three keyboardists, three drummers, two bassists, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, and guitarist John McLauglin. The music is full of visceral thrills and the brooding darkness Davis brought to everything he touched.

Bitches Brew was chosen as the 87th greatest album of all time in a Rolling Stone magazine poll of artists, producers, critics and music industry figures in Oct. 2020.

- Rolling Stone, 10/20.

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