Miles Runs the Voodoo Down on New "Bootleg Series"

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Fans of jazz giant Miles Davis were overjoyed in 2011 to hear that Columbia/Legacy had tapped the artist as the next subject of their Bootleg Series, offering rare live recordings of performances only available previously as, well... bootlegs, if at all. Though of course, these "official" releases come with incredible sound, detailed liner notes and essays, and a professional sheen.

Davis scholars are particularly excited about the second release, Miles Davis Quintet -- Live in Europe 1969, as the 3-CD/1-DVD document the famous "Lost Band" of '69-70: Davis (trumpet), Wayne Shorter (sax), Chick Corea (keyboards), Dave Holland (bass), and Jack DeJohnette (drums) --a lineup that never set foot in the studio

Rocks Off spoke via email with box set co-producer Richard Seidel about this "Lost Band," Miles' desire to reach rock audiences, and why we have European governments to thank for so much jazz documentation.

Rocks Off: Why were these three particular shows -- two in France and one in Sweden -- chosen for Vol. 2?

Richard Seidel: Because we believe they contain the strongest performances, covering the broadest range of material, performed by this unsung band. The set fills in a missing chapter of unique music in Miles' legacy of legendary bands that deserves to be far better-known.

And while there are similarities to bands and recordings, both prior and following, nothing in this set sounds quite like anything else in Miles' legacy.

RO: Why did this "Lost Band" never get the chance to record?

RS: No one knows for sure, but it was probably because the powers that be at Columbia felt that the kind of music this band was performing was insufficiently commercial. Miles's record sales by 1969 were at an absolute low point and it was not until the release of In a Silent Way later in that year, and Bitches Brew in the spring of '70, that they started moving upward again.

Unlike these shows at European concert halls, in the U.S. Miles was mainly performing in small clubs in front of one or two hundred people, having lost much of the audience he had developed in the 1950s and earlier in the 1960s. Maybe this music was just too adventurous for a broader audience than hardcore jazz fans.

RO: This lineup is definitely influenced and goes more toward a rock direction. It's been documented how Miles wanted to reach more of a non-jazz audience during this time, and he would with Bitches Brew. How much did that desire shape this lineup?

RS: This set represents a band and a music in transition. Miles knew where he wanted to go -- "Miles Runs The Voodoo Down," "Bitches Brew," etc. -- but he had not yet fully left behind the style and the repertoire that preceded this next step.

RO: The color concert video from Berlin is incredible. How ironic is it that we have all this great jazz video -- and not just from Miles -- from European state-owned sources and there's so little American documentation?

RS: Clearly, jazz was taken more seriously by European audiences and governments in the 1960s than it was in the U.S., or these things would not have been documented in the way that they were. And probably not with the same level of extraordinary technical and artistic excellence you see in the video.

RO: In the set lists, Miles certainly embraces material from a wide variety of genres and different stages of his career. Why do you think he felt this comfortable at the time to be more expansive?

RS: There was never a time in his career when Miles played such a wide variety of material. He was able to do this with ease because of the phenomenal musicianship of the players in the band. Their range and versatility has been brought even more to the fore throughout the balance of their still enduring careers.

RO: Chick Corea's contribution, perhaps more than the other backing players, really stands out.

RS: Chick was the first keyboard player in Miles' band to tour with him playing exclusively electric piano, and the electric piano was the first electric instrument Miles added to the sound of the band.

The sonorities of the instrument and the particularly percussive way in which Chick plays it helped to provided the kind of rhythmic support Miles was looking for in his new forays into rock-oriented rhythms. 

RO: Has the material for Vol. 3 been decided upon yet?

RS: We definitely have an idea in mind but it's too early to discuss at this point.

RO: Finally, for you personally, what is the most appealing thing about the music on this box set?

RS: The way in which it takes chances. That every song can be re-imagined every time it's played, night after night. So that's it searching unpredictable nature provides a sense of surprise and a freshness. And therefore, it can still sound like something "new" all these decades later.

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