|Studio album by Miles Davis|
|Released||March 30, 1970|
|Recorded||August 19–21, 1969|
|Studio||Columbia Studio B, New York City|
|Miles Davis chronology|
Bitches Brew is a studio double album by American jazz musician Miles Davis, released on March 30, 1970, on Columbia Records. It continued his experimentation with electric instruments previously featured on his critically acclaimed album In a Silent Way. With the use of these instruments, such as the electric piano and guitar, Davis rejected traditional jazz rhythms in favor of a looser, rock-influenced improvisational style. It received a mixed response, due to the album's unconventional style and experimental sound, but became Davis's first gold record, selling more than half a million copies.
In subsequent years, Bitches Brew gained recognition as one of jazz's greatest albums and a progenitor of the jazz rock genre, as well as a major influence on rock and funk musicians. The album won a Grammy Award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album in 1971. In 1998, Columbia Records released The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions, a four-disc box set that included the original album as well as the studio sessions through February 1970.
Recording sessions took place at Columbia's Studio B over the course of three days in August 1969. Davis called the musicians to the recording studio at very short notice. A few pieces on Bitches Brew were rehearsed before the recording sessions, but at other times the musicians had little or no idea what they were to record. Once in the recording studio, the players were typically given only a few instructions: a tempo count, a few chords or a hint of melody, and suggestions as to mood or tone. Davis liked to work this way; he thought it forced musicians to pay close attention to one another, to their own performances, or to Davis's cues, which could change at any moment. On the quieter moments of "Bitches Brew", for example, Davis's voice is audible, giving instructions to the musicians: snapping his fingers to indicate tempo, or, in his distinctive whisper, saying, "Keep it tight" or telling individuals when to solo (e.g. "John" - during track 'Bitches Brew').
Davis composed most of the music on the album. The two important exceptions were the complex "Pharaoh's Dance" (composed by Joe Zawinul) and the ballad "Sanctuary" (composed by Wayne Shorter). The latter had been recorded as a fairly straightforward ballad early in 1968, but was given a radically different interpretation on Bitches Brew. It begins with Davis and Chick Corea improvising on the standard "I Fall in Love Too Easily" before Davis plays the "Sanctuary" theme. Then, not unlike Davis's recording of Shorter's "Nefertiti" two years earlier, the horns repeat the melody over and over while the rhythm section builds up the intensity. The issued "Sanctuary" is actually two consecutive takes of the piece.
Despite his reputation as a "cool", melodic improviser, much of Davis's playing on this album is aggressive and explosive, often playing fast runs and venturing into the upper register of the trumpet. His closing solo on "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down" is particularly noteworthy in this regard. Davis did not perform on the short piece "John McLaughlin".
Bitches Brew also pioneered the application of the studio as a musical instrument, featuring stacks of edits and studio effects that were an integral part of the music. Miles and his producer, Teo Macero, used the recording studio in radical new ways, especially in the title track and the opening track, "Pharaoh's Dance". There were many special effects, like tape loops, tape delays, reverb chambers and echo effects. Through intensive tape editing, Macero concocted many totally new musical structures that were later imitated by the band in live concerts. Macero, who has a classical education and was most likely inspired by '50s and '60s French musique concrète experiments, used tape editing as a form of arranging and composition.
"Pharaoh's Dance" contains 19 edits – its famous stop-start opening is entirely constructed in the studio, using repeat loops of certain sections. Later on in the track there are several micro-edits: for example, a one-second-long fragment that first appears at 8:39 is repeated five times between 8:54 and 8:59. The title track contains 15 edits, again with several short tape loops of, in this case, five seconds (at 3:01, 3:07 and 3:12). Therefore, Bitches Brew not only became a controversial classic of musical innovation, it also became renowned for its pioneering use of studio technology.
Though Bitches Brew was in many ways revolutionary, perhaps its most important innovation was rhythmic. The rhythm section for this recording consists of two bassists (one playing bass guitar, the other double bass), two to three drummers, two to three electric piano players, and a percussionist, all playing at the same time. As Paul Tanner, Maurice Gerow, and David Megill explain, "like rock groups, Davis gives the rhythm section a central role in the ensemble's activities. His use of such a large rhythm section offers the soloists wide but active expanses for their solos."
Tanner, Gerow and Megill further explain that
"the harmonies used in this recording move very slowly and function modally rather than in a more tonal fashion typical of mainstream jazz.... The static harmonies and rhythm section's collective embellishment create a very open arena for improvisation. The musical result flows from basic rock patterns to hard bop textures, and at times, even passages that are more characteristic of free jazz."
The solo voices heard most prominently on this album are the trumpet and the soprano saxophone, respectively of Miles and Wayne Shorter. Notable also is Bennie Maupin's bass clarinet present on four tracks.
The technology of recording, analog tape, disc mastering and inherent recording time constraints had, by the late sixties, expanded beyond previous limitations and sonic range for the stereo, vinyl album and Bitches Brew reflects this. In it are found long-form performances which encompass entire improvised suites with rubato sections, tempo changes or the long, slow crescendo more common to a symphonic orchestral piece or Indian raga form than the three-minute rock song. Starting in 1969, Davis' concerts included some of the material that would become Bitches Brew.
Reception and legacy
|Christgau's Record Guide||A−|
|Encyclopedia of Popular Music|||
|The Penguin Guide to Jazz|||
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
In a contemporary review for Rolling Stone, Langdon Winner said Bitches Brew showed Davis' music expanding in "beauty, subtlety and sheer magnificence", finding it "so rich in its form and substance that it permits and even encourages soaring flights of imagination by anyone who listens". He concluded that the album would "reward in direct proportion to the depth of your own involvement". Village Voice critic Robert Christgau deemed it "good music that's very much like jazz and something like rock", naming it the year's best jazz album and Davis "jazzman of the year" in his ballot for Jazz & Pop magazine. He was somewhat less enthusiastic in a retrospective review, calling it "a brilliant wash of ideas, so many ideas that it leaves an unfocused impression", with Tony Williams' steadier rock rhythms from In a Silent Way replaced by "subtle shades of Latin and funk polyrhythm that never gather the requisite fervor". He concluded that the music sounded "enormously suggestive, and never less than enjoyable, but not quite compelling. Which is what rock is supposed to be."
Selling more than one million copies since it was released, Bitches Brew was viewed by some writers in the 1970s as what spurred jazz's renewed popularity with mainstream audiences that decade. As Michael Segell wrote in 1978, jazz was "considered commercially dead" by the 1960s until the album's success "opened the eyes of music-industry executives to the sales potential of jazz-oriented music". This led to other fusion records that "refined" Davis' new style of jazz and sold millions of copies, including Head Hunters by Herbie Hancock and George Benson's 1976 album Breezin'. According to independent scholar Jane Garry, Bitches Brew defined and popularized the jazz fusion genre, also known as jazz-rock, but it was hated by a number of purists. Jazz critic and producer Bob Rusch recalled, "this to me was not great Black music, but I cynically saw it as part and parcel of the commercial crap that was beginning to choke and bastardize the catalogs of such dependable companies as Blue Note and Prestige.... I hear it 'better' today because there is now so much music that is worse."
The Penguin Guide to Jazz called Bitches Brew "one of the most remarkable creative statements of the last half-century, in any artistic form. It is also profoundly flawed, a gigantic torso of burstingly noisy music that absolutely refuses to resolve itself under any recognized guise." In 2003, the album was ranked number 94 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time (however, it went down one spot 9 years later). Along with this accolade, the album has been ranked at or near the top of several other magazines' "best albums" lists in disparate genres. The album was also included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
Experimental jazz drummer Bobby Previte considered Bitches Brew to be "groundbreaking": "How much groundbreaking music do you hear now? It was music that you had that feeling you never heard quite before. It came from another place. How much music do you hear now like that?" Thom Yorke, lead singer of English band Radiohead, noted the album as an influence on their 1997 album OK Computer: "It was building something up and watching it fall apart, that's the beauty of it. It was at the core of what we were trying to do with OK Computer." Rock and jazz musician Donald Fagen was less receptive of the album, calling it "essentially just a big trash-out for Miles": "To me it was just silly, and out of tune, and bad. I couldn't listen to it. It sounded like [Davis] was trying for a funk record, and just picked the wrong guys. They didn't understand how to play funk. They weren't steady enough."
All pieces were written by Miles Davis, except where noted.
|1.||"Pharaoh's Dance"||Joe Zawinul||20:00|
|1.||"Miles Runs the Voodoo Down"||14:04|
|Reissue bonus track; 1999 CD release featured a bonus cut recorded in early 1970.|
- Teo Macero – producer
- Frank Laico – engineer (August 19, 1969 session)
- Stan Tonkel – engineer (All other sessions)
- Mark Wilder – mastering
- Mati Klarwein – cover painting
- Bob Belden, Michael Cuscuna – reissue producer
- Robert Honablue – mastering
- Miles Davis.com
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October 26, 1969... 'Bitches Brew'... 'Miles Runs the Voodoo Down'... 'Spanish Key'
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- Salon Entertainment: a Master at dangerous play
- A history of jazz fusion
- Miles Davis – The Electric Period
- Article by Paul Tingen: Complete Bitches Brew Sessions boxed set at the Miles Beyond site
- Article by Paul Tingen: In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew
- The Sorcerer of Jazz by Adam Shatz, NY Review of Books, September 29, 2016 issue