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Miles Davis
The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions
Columbia Legacy

Over a quarter century after it shocked the music world, Miles Davis's watershed album, Bitches Brew, still generates controversy. Considered the most important jazz work of the past 30 years by some and penultimate commercial bastardization by others, Bitches Brew changed music the moment it hit the stands in 1970, and jazz was never the same again. Miles Davis had left another permanent thumbprint on music and this time scored his first gold record.

Culled from three days of August 1969 sessions, the original Bitches Brew release consisted of six songs spread over two albums (two songs clock in at over 20 minutes). The music was almost totally improvised, as Davis brought in not compositions but ideas and let a cast of musicians that included John McLaughlin, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul, Larry Young, Dave Holland, Lenny White and Jack DeJohnette -- some of the most important players of the past 30 years -- develop those ideas into a blistering musical statement.

Bitches Brew didn't blur but rather obliterated the lines between jazz and rock. While various forms of fusion had been developing for years, it always sounded like a rock player doing jazz or vice versa. But Bitches Brew was the perfect blend of jazz, rock, funk, African rhythms, distorted guitar, electronic keyboards, extended jazz improvisations and significant postproduction (including major editing, tape loops, a reverb chamber and echo effects) and Davis's emotive trumpet. Nothing else sounded remotely like it.

Excellently packaged with good liner notes (though the choice of Quincy Troupe as a writer is dubious given the circumstances surrounding his contributions to Miles Davis's autobiography) and meticulous session information, The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions is a four-CD set that combines the original Bitches Brew album with five sessions Davis conducted in late 1969 and early 1970. Most of the music from the post-Bitches Brew sessions was not released for years, with nine tracks making their first appearance on this collection. Davis chose not to issue much of the music because by March 1970, just a month after Bitches Brew's release, he had shifted to a smaller, more guitar-dominated sound with his Jack Johnson sessions. The five post-Bitches Brew sessions are particularly notable as the vast majority of songs don't point in the Jack Johnson direction but have a more surreal quality to them, enhanced by Davis's use of the sitar and Joe Zawinul's style of electric piano playing. However, John McLaughlin's raucous guitar on "Double Image" certainly hints at what would happen on Jack Johnson.

The sound quality on this collection is different from on the analog LPs. The original analog delay is gone, with digital echo taking its place. Instruments have more separation, and there is less compression. It sounds more like what Davis was doing in the studio, but who knows if this version recreates his intent. He very well may have preferred the more blurred wall of sound.

Miles Davis is the most important post-World War II musician. The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions, which documents a master's evolution of a style of music that changed the way jazz and rock would be played forever, is one of the many testaments to that fact.

-- Paul J. MacArthur

Built to Spill
Keep It Like a Secret
Warner Bros.

With a mosquito-y voice and reverence for the guitar gods of rock and roll, Built to Spill leader Doug Martsch is an unlikely underground rock icon. The world-askew wordplay of his lyrics and the intriguing, shape-shifting of the songs fit snugly in the indie rock world, but Martsch and his supporting cast of characters (including ex-Spinanes drummer Scott Plouf, perhaps the finest alternative rock drummer since Dave Grohl manned the skins for Nirvana) ignore indie rock's "no guitar heroes" rule and unselfconsciously celebrate the power of rock and roll. Uniting classic rock's earnestness and indie rock's musical nonconformity on Keep It Like a Secret, the group's fourth record, BTS channels the spirit and daring which fuel the best work of both genres.

Martsch refuses to give up on the idea that loose song structures, good intentions and angular pop/rock songs with personal lyrics can connect with and have an effect on a small subculture. Like those of Pavement and Guided By Voices, BTS's songs are grounded in the rock tradition while exploring the rough edges and gleaning new songs from the source material of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd. And over and over Martsch's uncanny ability to wrest new sounds from his Stratocaster unites Keep It Like a Secret.

Built to Spill's achieved goal is, in essence, to blur the lines which were never meant to be drawn around rock. The band unites the power of rock and the ingeniousness of the obscure, using quotations from classic rock ("You were right when you said, 'All we are is dust in the wind' / You were right when you said, 'We're all just bricks in the wall' ") and blistering rock in waltz-time, making a statement about the lasting impact that great, innovative rock can have, including records such as Keep It Like a Secret.

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