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Miles Davis: It’s About That Time – Live at the Fillmore East (1970)

July 2, 2011

Miles Davis It's About That TimeRoll: 6-7-16
Album: Miles Davis, It’s About That Time (Live at the Fillmore East,March 1970)

Reviewing It’s About That Time: Live at the Fillmore East (March 1970), is kind of pointless. If it had been released at the time it was recorded, in an artistic bubble, it would stand on its own as a ground-breaking, genre-shattering classic. But it wasn’t. It’s part of a sprawling oeuvre and is merely supplementary material for the devoted. Good or bad, it’s more Miles Davis from the height of his electric period and if you’re going to want it, you’re going to want it.

The most rigorously documented period in almost any musicians career has to be Miles Davis’ between 1969-72, roughly the Bitches Brew/Tribute to Jack Johnson years. Starting with live recordings at Newport in July of 1969 and stretching out to a September 1972 set at Philharmonic Hall, there’s at least seven studio and live albums in between. Bitches Brew alone has many multi-disc editions including a 4-disc Complete Sessions and the 3 CD/1 DVD/2 LP 40th Anniversary set accompanied by a stripped down 2 CD/1 DVD Legacy Edition. Add to that an almost impossible number of live bootlegs to count—recently the pseudo-bootleg Complete Live at the Blue Coronet (June 1969) was added to the pile.

Navigating through all the recordings of his live band with an ever-changing personnel is a daunting task. For instance, this set from the Fillmore East in March of 1970 isn’t to be confused with Black Beauty: Live at Fillmore West (April 1970) or Miles Davis At Fillmore: Live at the Fillmore East (June 1970) or the bootleg, Live at the Fillmore West, October 1970.

You can’t fill up a discography with much more Fillmore than that. The question now becomes is it worth it to fill your collection with more Bitches sessions brewed at the Fillmore?

For the average listener, probably not. Those wanting just a little more of the Bitches Brew magic, picking up the recently released—and smokingly stellar—Bitches Brew Live is probably all the further documentation they’ll need. If they still can’t get enough, tracking down all of these sessions is worth the effort as they’re all of generally high quality (not counting the dodgy audio in some of the bootlegs) and diverse enough to maintain interest. Plus, unlike Bitches Brew Live, they feature songs not on the original release of Brew.

And besides, comparing how the different players affected the flavour and groove of the various live concoctions is some of the most rewarding music nerdery you can hope to engage in. Who was better on sax, Wayne Shorter or Steve Grossman? Michael Henderson or Dave Holland on bass? Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul or Chick Corea on the Fender Rhodes? How did adding John McLaughlin‘s guitar to the mix change things? On which dates did the combos really gel and which recordings were over-edited after the fact? With such a wealth of recorded material, it’s a game you can play ad nauseam.

Well, if you enjoy Miles Davis’ electric period, that is.

If not—and it’s certainly a strong flavour that doesn’t appeal to everyone—then It’s About That Time‘s two discs aren’t going to be for you. If you do enjoy the claustrophobic, funky, fuzzed-out, polyrhythmic, psychedelic mélange Davis was brewing in that period, it’s worth discussing how this set stacks up against the other albums featuring the same material.

In some ways, this March ’70 date is a little more restrained than the June dates featured on At Fillmore. But it still comes out of the gate smoking, with VU meters in the red. Where At Fillmore delves more into noisy, experimental, spacey, free-jazz textures—not quite developed yet by Black Beauty a few months earlier—It’s About That Time attacks the material violently. Actually, all the live albums improve on Bitches Brew in this way.

Unlike their studio counterparts, here “Spanish Key” buzzes and bursts and “Masquelaro” (aka “The Mask” from the Complete Bitches Brew Sessions) is treated like something to be crushed under Chick Corea’s foot. Where Brew is sanded smooth at the edges, all these Fillmore dates pick the hatchet back up and hack away the gloss with an almost punk-rock intensity. There are moments when these sessions are fuzzier, heavier and rougher than hard rock and metal albums of the period.

In fact, comparing it these sessions to hard rock classics of 1969-70 is interesting. No matter how relevant those Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, James Brown, Funkadelic, King Crimson, or Blue Cheer records remain today, they also sound quaintly of their time. Though you can tell these Fillmore sessions were recorded in that same period (they were, after all, the blueprint for every terrible jazz-fusion record to follow and the sound is pure ’70s) there’s nothing quaint about them. This music is as vital and fresh and groundbreaking now as when it was baffling audiences at the time.

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