Miles Davis – Willie Nelson (live) (Filmore West, San Francisco (April 10, 1970)

Miles Davis – Willie Nelson
Fillmore West (San Francisco, CA), 04/10/1970
Music Audio Miles Davis

Around the release of Bitches Brew and just days after wrapping the session that yielded “Yesternow” for the yet to be released A Tribute to Jack Johnson, Miles Davis gathered his band and flew to San Francisco for his first live recorded performance since 1965. Davis had crossed a bridge and was playing to rock houses now–at first to his dismay, but the crowds were responding to his sound, as it reached into epic fourth and fifth dimensions, going places that only a master musician like Davis could navigate and conquer. Miles was also a recent convert to rock—or at least to Jimi Hendrix—and the influence of Hendrix’s wild psychedelic styles poke through in performance here, as well as on the then-new Bitches Brew. This is the Fillmore West show that would ultimately be released as Black Beauty in 1973.

During this window of Davis’ career, when he was expanding the boundaries of the music he’d already shaped and pioneered, he often opened his shows with the Joe Zawinul piece, “Directions.” Casting a spell with the high and frantic notes of “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down,” his groove machine is up and running now, thanks to Jack DeJohnette on drums, Airto Moreira flying high on percussion and Dave Holland holding it down on bass. With Chick Corea on electric piano and Steve Grossman on sax, Miles was free to blow, and though he famously loathed the style of jazz known as “free” or avant garde, his aggressive and intensive deliveries that were uniquely his own sure get close to that far-out style of improvisatory expression.
“Willie Nelson,” is also contemporary to this period; it would emerge eventually on The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions. Throughout the set, Miles pretty much sticks to recent or working repertoire rather than reaching back in time, though he pays respects to the standards with the Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne piece, “I Fall In Love Too Easily.” And while no longer in the fold, Miles plucks from two compositions by sax man Wayne Shorter: The distant “Sanctuary” and the more jittery “Masqualero,” a mighty showcase for Miles as well as for Grossman on soprano sax that slides nicely into “Spanish Key” from the game-changing Bitches Brew. As the jam winds down, Davis pulls out “The Theme,” and guides the ship in for a landing—and what a ride it’s been.

Though the calendar on this gig may’ve said 1970, Davis had already seen the future of music and he was on board, flying high and running all the way with it. Recorded during a crucial period in which everything he’d created to that point was exploding into jazz’s next dimension, not to mention impacting rock along the lines of the Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix, the only question that remains is, can you dig it? We think you can.

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