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Dark Magus

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Dark Magus
MilesDavis DarkMagus.jpg
Live album by
RecordedMarch 30, 1974
VenueCarnegie Hall (New York)
LabelCBS Sony
ProducerTeo Macero
Miles Davis chronology
Water Babies
Dark Magus
Circle in the Round

Dark Magus is a live double album by American jazz trumpeter, composer, and bandleader Miles Davis. It was recorded on March 30, 1974, at Carnegie Hall in New York City, during the electric period in the musician's career. Davis' group at the time of the concert included bassist Michael Henderson, drummer Al Foster, percussionist Mtume, saxophonist Dave Liebman, and guitarists Pete Cosey and Reggie Lucas. He also used the show to audition saxophonist Azar Lawrence and guitarist Dominique Gaumont. Dark Magus was produced by Teo Macero and featured four two-part recordings with titles from the Swahili words for the numbers one through four.

Dark Magus was released after Davis' 1975 retirement, upon which his label, Columbia Records, issued several albums of various outtakes. After releasing the live recordings Agharta (1975) and Pangaea (1976), Columbia decided that they did not approve of the albums, and Dark Magus was released only in Japan, in 1977 by CBS-Sony. The label's A&R executive Tatsu Nosaki suggested the album's title, which referred to the Magus from the Zoroastrian religion.

Along with Davis' other records during the 1970s, Dark Magus was received ambivalently by contemporary critics, but it inspired noise rock acts during the late 1970s and the experimental funk artists of the 1980s. The album was not released in the United States until July 1997, when it was reissued by Sony Records and Legacy Records. In retrospective reviews, critics praised its jazz-rock aesthetic and the group members' performances, and some believed certain parts foreshadowed jungle music.


The main hall stage of Carnegie Hall

Davis was 47 years old when he was asked to play Carnegie Hall in 1974, which followed four years of relentless touring. He had played the venue numerous times before and recorded a live album there in 1961. By 1974, Davis had been dealing with depression, cocaine and sex addictions, and several health problems, including osteoarthritis, bursitis, and sickle-cell anemia. He had also lost respect with both critics and his contemporaries because of his musical explorations into more rock- and funk-oriented sounds.[1] Influenced by Karlheinz Stockhausen, Davis wanted to avoid individual songs and instead record extended movements that developed into a different composition.[2] He played his trumpet sparsely and became less of the focal point for his band, whom he allowed more freedom to improvise and with whom he rarely rehearsed, so that the young musicians he enlisted would be tested to learn and play together onstage.[1]

Dave Liebman (pictured in 1975)

The March 30, 1974, concert featured an ethnically and age-diverse audience that included young hippies and old, wealthy attendees. According to Magnet magazine's Bryan Bierman, "the hip, 'with it' kids [sat] side-by-side with middle-aged tuxedoed couples, expecting to hear 'My Funny Valentine.'"[1] Although he lived only 15 minutes away, Davis arrived at the venue more than an hour late. When the band walked out onstage, he followed with his back turned to the audience,[1] casually strolling onstage while the other musicians were setting up. Davis immediately began to play, and the band responded by playing a dense rhythm in unison.[3] Saxophonist Dave Liebman, writing in the 1997 US reissue liner notes for Dark Magus,[4] recalled the start of the show: "It is his whim .. That's the thing! ... Miles can do that and have three thousand musicians follow him. Right? So what I learned in that respect from Miles was to be able to watch him and be on his case".[3]

Somehow, he would get you to play in a manner that in most cases you would never do again.

—Liebman on Davis[5]

Davis used the show to audition two new members—tenor saxophonist Azar Lawrence and guitarist Dominique Gaumont.[3] Lawrence was the most highly regarded young saxophonist at the time, while Gaumont was enlisted by Davis in response to incumbent guitarist Reggie Lucas's demand for a pay raise.[6] Although it was unexpected, Liebman later characterized the move as typical of the trumpeter: "What he was doing—which he often does at big kinda gigs like that—is change the shit up, by doing something totally out. Totally unexpected. I mean, we had been a band together on the road for a year ... And then, suddenly, a live date, New York City, Carnegie Hall, the cat pulls two cats who never even saw each other. I mean, you gotta say, 'Is the man mad or is he – he's either mad or extremely subtle."[3]

Composition and performance[edit]

[Davis] shifted gears at will in his early-'70s music, orchestrating moods and settings to subjugate the individual musical inspirations of his young close-enough-for-funk subgeniuses to the life of a single palpitating organism that would have perished without them—no arrangements, little composition, and not many solos either, although at any moment a player could find himself left to fly off on his own.

Robert Christgau[7]

Dark Magus features four two-part compositions with an average length of 25 minutes each.[4] The album's music was unrehearsed and eschewed melody for improvisations around funk rhythms and grooves. The rhythms, colors, and keys "would shift and change on a whim from Davis", as AllMusic's Thom Jurek said.[8] The trumpeter eschewed his previous performances' keyboardists in favor of a three-guitar line-up of Reggie Lucas, Dominique Gaumont, and Pete Cosey, who had a penchant for guitar wails and pedal effects.[9] Davis often stopped the band with hand signals and created empty spaces, which were longer than traditional jazz breaks, and encouraged the soloists to fill them with exaggerated cadenzas.[10]

Davis only soloed intermittently or played his Yamaha organ.[9] He played trumpet on "Moja" and both trumpet and organ on the other pieces.[3] The second half of "Moja" is distinguished by a long ballad sequence introduced by Liebman and continued by Lucas and Davis.[6] "Moja" also included a theme from "Nne".[10] On "Tatu", Gaumont followed Lucas's solo with a long passage characterized by fuzzy wah-wah effects, and Lawrence played briefly with Liebman in a duet before his own disjointed solo.[6] "Tatu" ended with a rendition of "Calypso Frelimo".[3] During the first part of "Nne", they played the Davis-penned composition "Ife".[10] Near the end of "Nne", Davis played a short blues.[6]

According to Robert Christgau, the aesthetic on Dark Magus was a culmination of Davis' previous records and "bifurcated, like jazz-rock again".[5] He argued that trumpeter left the two elements—jazz and rock—"distinct and recognizable", whereas "pure funk" would have subsumed them both "in a new conception, albeit one that" favors rock. Christgau attributed the album's jazz input to Lawrence's "Coltranesque" saxophone, and the rock elements to guitarists Lucas and Gaumont, who "wah-riff[ed] the rhythm", and Pete Cosey, who produced "his own wah-wah-inflected noise into the arena-rock stratosphere."[7] Erik Davis compared Davis' trumpet sound to "a mournful but pissed-off banshee", and Cosey, Lucas, and Gaumont to "somewhere between and beyond James Brown and Can", amid "quiet percussion passages [that] emerge like moonlit clearings".[11] In The Rough Guide to Rock (2003), Ben Smith described the music as "an amazingly dense amalgam of free jazz and funk",[12] while Fred Kaplan from New York magazine called it "electric jazz-rock fusion".[13]


Dark Magus was released after Davis' retirement when his label, Columbia Records, issued several albums of various outtakes. They released his live album Agharta (1975) in the US, though not Pangaea (1976), and ultimately did not approve of Davis's other live recordings and chose to issue Dark Magus also only in Japan.[1] It was released in 1977 by CBS-Sony,[14] who used several engineering fades in the album's production to shorten the original concert for the final release.[10] The album's four tracks were titled after Swahili names for the numbers one through four.[8] Its title was suggested by Tatsu Nosaki, an A&R executive from CBS-Sony, who were producing the album. According to Nosaki, "Magus ... is the founder of the ancient Persian religion, Zoroastrianism."[10] The cover image is, as The New York Public Library blogger Shawn Donohue describes, "an enigma" as "it is hard to make out anything more than shapes and colors, possibly Davis in tripped out profile on the far right".[15]

The album was not released in the United States until July 1997, when it was reissued by Sony Records and Legacy Records. It was part of the labels' reissue of five two-disc live albums by Davis, including Black Beauty: Miles Davis at Fillmore West (1970), Miles Davis at Fillmore (1970), Live-Evil (1971), and In Concert (1973). The reissued albums featured liner notes written by his sidemen.[4]

Reception and legacy[edit]

Retrospective professional reviews
Review scores
Christgau's Consumer GuideA[7]
Down Beat[16]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music[17]
Entertainment WeeklyA[18]
Los Angeles Times[19]
MusicHound Jazz3.5/5[20]
The Penguin Guide to Jazz[21]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide[23]

Along with Davis' other 1970s records, Dark Magus was received ambivalently by contemporary critics but became an inspiration to late 1970s noise rock acts and the experimental funk artists of the 1980s.[24] Its 1997 reissue was ranked by Christgau as the 10th best album of the year in his list for The Village Voice's annual Pazz & Jop critics' poll.[25] In 2001, Q named it one of the "50 Heaviest Albums of All Time" and called it "a maelstrom of uncut improvisational fury ... arguably the furthest out Miles ever got".[26] David Keenan placed it on his all-time 105 best albums list for the Sunday Herald and said by ornamenting heavy grooves with tribal percussive instruments, wah-wah effects, and otherworldly trumpet bursts, Davis had instinctively fused the most advanced elements of modern African-American music.[27] According to CODA critic Greg Masters, Davis created among the darkest and most radical auras, feelings, and moods in 20th-century music on Dark Magus.[28]

Reviewing the reissue in 1997 for JazzTimes, Tom Terrell said this kind of music would never be heard again, deeming it "tomorrow's sound yesterday ... a terrifyingly exhilarating aural asylum of wails, howls, clanks, chanks, telltale heartbeats, wah wah quacks, white noise and loud silences."[29] According to DownBeat that year, the frantic burbles of congas on "Moja" and "Tatu" predated oldschool jungle by 20 years,[16] while Spin journalist Erik Davis found its anguished, ferocious music extremely impressive, especially when listened to loud. He contended that the group improvisation on tracks such as "Wili" foreshadowed the drum 'n' bass genre: "Miles was invoking the primordial powers of the electronic urban jungle".[11] In The Penguin Guide to Jazz (1998), Richard Cook and Brian Morton wrote that each performance comprises only "shadings and sanations of sound, and as one gets to know these recordings better one becomes almost fixated on the tiniest inflexions."[21] Pitchfork critic Jason Josephes regarded it as a highly valued Davis record that invokes a sense of coolness in listeners.[22]

Just when you think the shit can't get much higher, Miles comes in and hits the wah-wah down hard on the horn and the next thing you know, you're slappin' five to the man upstairs ... By the rite of Dark Magus, I can fake the cool in no time flat.

—Jason Josephes, Pitchfork[22]

In The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004), J. D. Considine wrote that Dark Magus expressed the band's surging rhythms better than In Concert and offered a balance between their affinity for improvisation amidst their desire to rock.[30] Jeff McCord of The Austin Chronicle found the performances impassioned, enduring, and highlighted by effectively competitive playing between each duo of saxophonists and guitarists.[31] According to John Szwed, it has moments when all three guitarists and two saxophonists are "in dense and exalted free improvisation together, and Pete Cosey's tunings, effects, excess, and sheer inventiveness took the guitar to the point where Hendrix, free jazz, and rhythm and blues proudly merged together."[10] By contrast, Don Heckman of the Los Angeles Times found the funk rhythms repetitive and Davis' playing both limited and unexceptional.[19] AllMusic's Thom Jurek called it an exaggerated and excessive showcase of Davis' disoriented psyche and felt that, although the rhythm section is historically captivating, the other musicians' playing is inconsistent, albeit enthralling.[8]

Track listing[edit]

All compositions were credited to Miles Davis.

1977 LP[edit]

Record one: Side A
1."Dark Magus – Moja"25:24
Record one: Side B
1."Dark Magus – Wili"25:08
Record two: Side A
1."Dark Magus – Tatu"25:20
Record two: Side B
1."Dark Magus – Nne"25:32

1997 CD[edit]

Disc one
1."Moja (Part 1)"12:28
2."Moja (Part 2)"12:40
3."Wili (Part 1)"14:20
4."Wili (Part 2)"10:44
Disc two
1."Tatu (Part 1)"18:47
2."Tatu (Part 2) ('Calypso Frelimo')"6:29
3."Nne (Part 1) ('Ife')"15:19
4."Nne (Part 2)"10:11



  1. ^ a b c d e Bierman, Bryan. "Hidden Gems: Miles Davis' 'Dark Magus'". Magnet. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
  2. ^ Pierce, Leonard (December 9, 2010). "Miles Davis : Primer". The A.V. Club. Chicago. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Chambers 1998, p. 265.
  4. ^ a b c "A new jolt of Miles Davis". Austin American-Statesman. July 29, 1997. p. E2. Retrieved November 20, 2012. (subscription required)
  5. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (October 14, 1997). "Miles Davis's '70s: The Excitement! The Terror!". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
  6. ^ a b c d Chambers 1998, p. 266.
  7. ^ a b c Christgau 2000, p. 73.
  8. ^ a b c d Jurek, Thom (November 1, 2002). "Dark Magus – Miles Davis". AllMusic. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
  9. ^ a b Sachs, Lloyd (July 27, 1997). "Early '70s albums show Miles Davis in free form". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
  10. ^ a b c d e f Szwed 2004, p. 338.
  11. ^ a b Davis, Erik (August 1997). "Freakin' the Funk – Revisiting Miles Davis's '70s Visions". Spin. New York: 117. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
  12. ^ Smith, Ben (2003). "Miles Davis". In Buckley, Peter (ed.). The Rough Guide to Rock (3rd ed.). Rough Guides. p. 271. ISBN 1-84353-105-4. ... an amazingly dense amalgam of free jazz and funk.
  13. ^ Kaplan, Fred (November 15, 2009). "Miles of Miles". New York. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
  14. ^ Chambers 1998, pp. 264–5.
  15. ^ Donohue, Shawn (January 27, 2015). "Great Albums You May Have Missed: Miles Davis Dark Magus (1997)". The New York Public Library. Retrieved January 3, 2021.
  16. ^ a b "Review: Dark Magus". Down Beat. Chicago: 65. July 1997.
  17. ^ Larkin 2006, p. 210.
  18. ^ Sinclair, Tom (August 1, 1997). "Review: Miles Davis live albums". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
  19. ^ a b Heckman, Don (July 27, 1997). "Unleashing More of the Davis Legacy : MILES DAVIS". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
  20. ^ Holtje, Steve; Lee, Nancy Ann, eds. (1998). "Miles Davis". MusicHound Jazz: The Essential Album Guide. Music Sales Corporation. ISBN 0-8256-7253-8.
  21. ^ a b Cook & Morton 1998, p. 393.
  22. ^ a b c Josephes, Jason (1997). "Review: Dark Magus". Pitchfork. Archived from the original on November 15, 1999. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
  23. ^ Considine et al. 2004, p. 215.
  24. ^ Pareles, Jon (September 29, 1991). "Miles Davis, Trumpeter, Dies; Jazz Genius, 65, Defined Cool". The New York Times. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
  25. ^ Christgau, Robert. "Pazz & Jop 1997: Dean's List". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
  26. ^ "50 Heaviest Albums of All Time". Q. London: 87. July 2001.
  27. ^ Keenan, David (September 9, 2001). "The Best Albums Ever ... honest". Sunday Herald. Glasgow. Archived from the original on August 2, 2002. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
  28. ^ Masters, Greg (February 1998). "Electric Miles". CODA.
  29. ^ Terrell, Tom (October 1997). Review: Dark Magus. JazzTimes. Retrieved on February 5, 2011.
  30. ^ Considine et al. 2004, p. 219.
  31. ^ McCord, Jeff (December 12, 1997). "Miles and Miles of Miles: The Columbia Legacy". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved November 20, 2012.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]