Monday, April 18, 2016

Odd-Bedfellows - Miles Davis and The Grateful Dead

I've complained in the past with regard to the difficulty of putting the pieces together at times. Easier to assemble a Confederate Uprising on an obscure Virginia battlefield than find out who played the Fillmore on such and such a date. What is easier to do, and thank God, is to find the music. I recently came across a recording of the Miles Davis concert from 1970 at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. The concert was one of a series of dates from April 9-12 where Miles and his electric band opened for the Grateful Dead.

Davis, already a jazz legend for pioneering experimentally modal music with Kind of Blue, had just released the ground-breaking rock-fusion album Bitches Brew and was trying to attract larger and younger audiences in rock venues. Instead of the usual polite clap-after-solo crowd of the jazz clubs, Miles & Co., Steve grossman (soprano sax), Chick Corea (electri piano, Dave Holland (bass), Jack DeJohnette, drums, and Airto Moreira, percussion, took their crazy, electric jazz-rock to the drug-induced, dancing hippie-bears known as Deadheads. The Dead's following was used to long, serpentine tunes with trippy guitar solos lasting 20 minutes, indeed acid minutes, kind of like dog years, but how would they respond to a wildly honking Miles Davis trumpet and the non-lyrical accompaniment of Bitches Brew? Imagine it. 
"The audience, they were rock 'n' rollers, they were totally crazy. Everybody was on acid. They would dance to anything. We would play this very complex stuff, like rlrrlrlrlah, it was like a ramble kind of thing, and the people they were dancing, they were rolling on the floor," said Moreira. Still, The Dead couldn’t fathom having the great Miles Davis open shows for them. In his autobiography, Searching for the Sound, Phil Lesh wrote, "As I listened, leaning over the amps with my jaw hanging agape, trying to comprehend the forces that Miles was unleashing onstage, I was thinking 'What’s the use. How can we possibly play after this? We should just go home and try to digest this unbelievable shit.'" Later, Lesh would say he has never listened to the tapes of his band playing that night – too worried that they sounded terrible. Lesh didn't listen, but you can, here. Miles' sets drew heavily from the just released Bitches Brew ("Miles Runs the Voodoo Down," "Bitches Brew," "Spanish Key," and "Sanctuary") along with bits of In A Silent Way ("It's About That Time"), some as yet unreleased tunes ("Directions," "Willie Nelson"), a snippet of the ballad "I Fall In Love Too Easily" and Davis’ regular closing coda ("The Theme")  all stitched together into one uninterrupted set. Crazy.