Every month this year, I will try to pair a drink with one of my favorite releases. This month, I begin with the drink / CD that inspired this series, Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, paired with…Dogfish Head’s Bitches Brew, which is a handcrafted brew that was made especially for the 40th annivesary release of the Jazz Classic.
Artist: Miles Davis
Release: Bitches Brew
Year / Label: 1970 / Columbia
- Pharaoh’s Dance
- Bitches Brew
- Spanish Key
- John McLaughlin
- Miles Runs the Voodoo Down
Bitches Brew is a studio double album by jazz musician Miles Davis, released on March 30, 1970 on Columbia Records. The album continued his experimentation with electric instruments previously featured on his critically acclaimed In a Silent Way album. 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.
Bitches Brew was Davis’s first gold record; it sold more than half a million copies. Upon release, it received a mixed response, due to the album’s unconventional style and experimental sound. Later, 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.
From the AllMusic review:
Thought by many to be among the most revolutionary albums in jazz history, Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew solidified the genre known as jazz-rock fusion. The original double LP included only six cuts and featured up to 12 musicians at any given time, some of whom were already established while others would become high-profile players later, Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, Airto, John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, Don Alias, Bennie Maupin, Larry Young, and Lenny White among them. Originally thought to be a series of long jams locked into grooves around keyboard, bass, or guitar vamps, Bitches Brew is actually a recording that producer Teo Macero assembled from various jams and takes by razor blade, splice to splice, section to section. “Pharaoh’s Dance” opens the set with its slippery trumpet lines, McLaughlin’s snaky guitar figures skirting the edge of the rhythm section and Don Alias’ conga slipping through the middle. Corea and Zawinul’s keyboards create a haunted, riffing modal groove, echoed and accented by the basses of Harvey Brooks and Holland. The title cut was originally composed as a five-part suite, though only three were used. Here the keyboards punch through the mix and big chords ring up distorted harmonics for Davis to solo rhythmically over, outside the mode. McLaughlin’s comping creates a vamp, and the bass and drums carry the rest. It’s a small taste of the deep voodoo funk to appear on Davis’ later records. Side three opens with McLaughlin and Davis trading fours and eights over a lockstep hypnotic vamp on “Spanish Key.” Zawinul’s lyric sensibility provides a near chorus for Corea to flit around in; the congas and drummers juxtapose themselves against the basslines. It nearly segues into the brief “John McLaughlin,” featuring an organ playing modes below arpeggiated blues guitar runs. The end of Bitches Brew, signified by the stellar “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down,” reflects the influence of Jimi Hendrix with its chunky, slipped chords and Davis playing a ghostly melody through the funkiness of the rhythm section. It seemingly dances, becoming increasingly more chaotic until it nearly disintegrates before shimmering into a loose foggy nadir. The disc closes with “Sanctuary,” completely redone here as a moody electric ballad that was reworked for this band while keeping enough of its integrity to be recognizable. Bitches Brew is so forward-thinking that it retains its freshness and mystery in the 21st century. [Some reissues add “Feio,” recorded in early 1970 with much of the same band.]
- About the Beer – Rich, smooth, kinda oaky, hints of sweetness – comes from the Tej – and chocolate. Definitely a high-end brew, almost a desert beer.
- Pharaoh’s Dance – Kinda random. Heavily processed – really can tell! A really soft open, IMHO.
- Bitches Brew – I like how the bass refrain is played at different volumes while Miles & co. dance around it- totally gets you into it!
- Spanish Key – Definitely a fusion track – rock influence super strong here. One of the tightest grooves that I’ve heard ever here. Nice. Probably the best track in the release.
- John McLaughlin – What! A sub-ten-minute songs? Would be a throwaway if it weren’t for the fact that John McLaughlin is such a kick-ass guitarist!
- Miles Runs the Voodoo Down – Yeah – a strong groove here. Makes ya wanna swing a bit – very nice and mellow. Another really strong track.
- Sanctuary – A nice, smooth ending to the effort – pretty calming and relaxing, amidst the occasional bouts of frenzy. This track is why I am electing not to include the bonus track that comes with many later releases of this double-album.
AV Slug: You can listen to the entire release as a YouTube playlist here.