It should come as no real surprise that the second installment of Miles’ Bootleg Series, Live in Europe 1969 won the Downbeat Critic’s Poll best historical/reissue category this year. (List of poll winners can be found here, and check the August issue for the complete list of those who received votes.) This set was at the top of my ballot, and deservedly so
my other two votes for best historical/reissue releases were ECM’s Jack DeJohnette Old and New Masters box set and Keith Jarrett’s Sleeper, featuring his European quartet.
Simply put, Live In Europe 1969 is straight bad ass. The set includes three CDs and one DVD featuring what Columbia is billing as Miles’ “Lost Band” – lost because it was under recorded.
The band: Miles, Shorter, Corea, Holland, DeJohnette.
- CD 1 – recorded 7/25/69 at Festival Mondial du Jazz d’ Antibes, La Pinede, Juan-les-Pins, France.
- CD 2 – same venue as disc one, recorded the following evening.
- CD 3 – recorded 11/5/69 at Folkets Hus, Stockholm, Sweden.
- DVD – Berliner Jazztage from November 7, 1969.
If you’ve seen the DVD of the band’s Copenhagen set from that same month that was included in the Bitches Brew Legacy Edition released a few years back then you know what to expect on the Berlin performance, as it’s the same band playing much of the same music. I’d give the edge, in terms of the performance, to the Copenhagen set from the Bitches Brew reissue. Maybe it was my player, but on the Berlin performance the sound was a bit off from the visual, making watching DeJohnette’s drums especially disconcerting.
What is particularly fascinating about these performances is when they were recorded in relation to the albums Miles et al recorded and released during this period. In a Silent Way was released a few days after the Antibes sets, while Bitches Brew was recorded a couple weeks after the Stockholm set and released in April of 1970. Fascinating because this set captures a tight-as-hell working band with a strong identity that’s in a much different bag than what is heard on In a Silent Way; the approach is different enough from Bitches Brew to contrast (of course the way that album was made can account for some of that); and of course the personnel was different.
The band’s book as documented in this set is quite diverse: tunes from Bitches Brew and In a Silent Way are here, as are tunes from Miles’ mid ’60s quintet (“Nefertiti,” “Masquelero,” “Footprints”); there are even a couple standards – “Round Midnight” one the first disc and short takes of “I Fall in Love Too Easily” on the second disc and DVD.
You had better bring your game before putting this music on, as it comes hard – straight at you. To use a cliche – this band melts faces. The music is hard charging, has an immense amount of edge and forward motion to it, and never relents in creative intensity. Although Bitches Brew – widely accepted as the first fusion album – was recorded essentially at the same time as these performances, I’d describe the music as leaning more toward the avant-garde or free categories than into the fusion/funky side of things. The music prefigures in some ways Miles and company’s live recordings from the Filmore from 1970 – dense, charged, abstract, crunchy, rocking, and out. Besides listening to Miles’ razor sharp playing – focusing on Holland is satisfying in and of itself in terms of the way he works with the rhythm section, as his interplay, invention and groove is astounding. As odd as it may seem, zeroing in on Holland – as opposed to digging the soloist – and listening out from him is perhaps the best way to hear just how good this band was.
Those looking for documentation of these recordings will be pleased, as Josef Woodard’s excellent liner notes are extensive. They include plenty of background information on the band, the sets, and quotes from the band members. The notes fold out, with a picture of the band – sans Corea – at work.
Given the seemingly unending series of Miles remastered recordings, newly dug up unreleased sets, etc., I’m sure some cynics – and maybe more than just cynics – might wonder if the release of this set is just an attempt by Columbia to get Miles suckers to shell out some cash for recordings of marginal quality. As a fairly cynical person myself I can assure you that this is not the case – because Live in Europe 1969 presents the goods in a well produced and quality package. Miles’ “Lost Band” has been found, for which I am thankful. You should be too.