In 1969 Miles was touring with a quintet containing Chick Corea on piano and Rhodes, Wayne Shorter on saxophone, Dave Holland on bass and Jack Dejohnette on drums. Any appreciator of modern jazz will recognize that as a band of heavyweights and 1969 as a year pregnant with musical revolution. Indeed, Corea, Shorter and Holland were part of the band behind Miles’ seminal In a Silent Way, and the whole quintet with Dejohnette, along with a number of other musicians, were part of the even more seminal Bitches Brew. Despite the generally well recorded associations Miles had with the members of this band, the band by itself was never captured in its element and up until recently there were no official releases of the band. This earned the 1969 quintet its own moniker: along with the First Great Quintet with John Coltrane and the Second Great Quintet with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Williams, this was the Lost Quintet.
Miles himself lamented in his autobiography that it was a shame that Columbia never recorded and released the band live. Well, what Miles actually said, in typical Miles fashion, was a bit more colorful: “Man, I wish this band had been recorded live because it was really a bad motherfucker.” Indeed. More recently, however, a handful of recordings that had apparently passed under the radar for a while have been released. Two sets from when the band with the addition of Airto Moreira on percussion opened for Neil Young in early 1970 at the Fillmore east, which also happened to be Wayne’s last concert with the band, were released in 2001, but most of the quintet’s career has so far gone undocumented. Until the recent release of Live in Europe 1969: the Bootleg Series Vol. 2, that is, which showcases four performances over three CDs and one DVD from the summer and fall of 1969. Luckily, the shows were broadcast over the radio and recorded roughly, though this release tries to clean them up a bit.
Unlike the Fillmore show, by which point the band was firmly in the spirit of Bitches Brew and the jazz-rock revolution, the bootleg series shows the band in a state of transition. This is a band clearly grappling with a very new musical direction but not quite all the way there; Miles had recently recorded In a Silent Way but the first two performances from July come before the recording of Bitches Brew and the band is clearly in between two very different repertoires of music. Half of the first show is comprised of electrified renditions of classic Miles songbook songs, ‘Milestones’, ‘Footprints’ and ‘Round Midnight’, which would not remain in the songbook for long. Probably my favorite moment in this collection comes in the second show, when a raucous full band ‘Spanish Key’, which would appear on Bitches Brew, blends in to a peaceful, almost meditative take on the standard ‘I Fall in Love Too Easily’, played duo with Chick Corea. Miles was always an excellent ballads player, and it’s nice to have a bit of a rest before the band goes back to knocking about songs like ‘Miles Runs the Voodoo Down’, but what a segue.
The last two performances from November come after Bitches Brew’s recording, but before its release, suggesting that the audiences would not have known what to expect. Even though including the song ‘Bitches Brew’ itself, these performances read as fairly distinct from the album, though no less exciting. Perhaps feeling the need to make up for the lack of the extended band on the album, the quintet plays with what is often wild abandon. Perhaps even more fascinating is that the first of these concerts is played mostly with an acoustic piano; the electric piano malfunctions some time in the middle of ‘Bitches Brew’, the first song, and Chick finishes it and the rest of show acoustically. This makes it an entirely acoustic showcase for Miles’ new electric direction. The music also often veers into completely free territory, particularly when Miles drops out and Corea, Holland and DeJohnette no longer feel the need to restrain themselves with fixed harmony or the rock groove which usually characterizes the melody sections of the new material.
For showing a near mythological band in period of serious, and very important, transition, this set will be absolutely necessary for many, despite the relative roughness of the recording. And it is rough. The album often sounds like a collection of drums and trumpet duets, so under recorded is Chick Corea that he is often basically lost in the mix, with only occasional hints at what he’s doing when Miles pauses for breath. Surprisingly, the recording seems to do a much better capturing Dave Holland, for which we can be grateful. Even so, it’s hard to complain about the sound quality listening to this otherwise entirely vital collection.