Columbia Records, 1969
REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/27/1998
Creating music definitely has its price. Especially in the case of Miles Davis. Rap purists, indie purists have nothing on the arrogance and the contempt of your typical jazz purist. And Miles Davis paid the price in the late 60s because of this setup. With one album, Bitches Brew, he helped bring about an entirely new sound of jazz:fusion. The result? Alienation from some of his closest peers.
"You did Birth Of The Cool, Kind Of Blue, so what? you brought the entire structure of jazz down. You pillaged a pristine landscape," jazz purists said. Even in today's world, a New York Times writer said Miles Davis was responsible for bastardizing jazz.
Was it worth it? Davis's friendship with Jimi Hendrix and the rise of funk converged on Bitches Brew. It did result in some, no, lots of cheese-fusion jazz bands out there. It did bring in a new audience to appreciate jazz. Somehting that many in the jazz community didn't appreciate. Think of it. Take your favorite pub, a pub that gets very little traffic during the weekdays and you like it like that. You're sitting, you're chilling with four or five mates with a beer and all of a sudden, a swarm of people enter some have enthusiastic faces others are just there. That's how many in the jazz community felt.
The only thing that jazz patrons can do is make room. Because Bitches Brew is a landmark album that elevated rock and jazz as we know it today. Spread out over two discs, Davis eases the listener into dark, new and exciting territory. The first two epics, "Pharaoh's Dance" and "Bitches Brew" contain many of the time change structures that Davis perfected in the works before the fusion stage of his career. John McLaughlin introduces some restrained guitar work while Harvey Brooks gives a powerful r&b rhythm of his Fender bass.
Call it Dadaism, call it a mess but the first side of Bitches Brew is a dazzling display of free form jazz and tight rhythms. Just as Davis hits a high note, all of the instruments seem to be going in different directions. Then, slowly the bass and guitar take over, Davis plays off of those beats and a recognized rhythm is re-established.
It's amazing looking at the release date for this record. In the 1990s, where rap, electronica, punk and grunge have all surfaced since the 1969 release of Bitches Brew, this album has never sounded dated at all. Quite the opposite. In today's standards, it seems to be a few years ahead of its time. No wonder so many people dogged it as unlistenable in the late 1960s.
The second half of Bitches Brew is a surrender to funk. The throbbing bass of "Spanish Key" keeps you entranced throughout the 17 minute-long song. Another notable player, Chick Corea on the electric piano, keeps things moving like a Parliament album. The party comes to a peak with the awesome "Miles Runs The Voodoo Down".
The album ends with "Sanctuary", a sober ending to an intense listening experience that must be experienced again and again to get Bitches Brew to even sink in. In that song, Davis's trumpet rings louder and more clear on some of the more cluttered tracks on the album. In that song, you hear his joy, anger and sadness pour out.
Bitches Brew is one of those few CDs that you have a perverse sense of owning. Not perverse as in owning a Marilyn Manson or Motley Crue CD. Both of those CDs were ones that you were not supposed to have but in ten years time will and are considered to be tame. Remember when Theatre Of Pain was supposed to be one of those tapes where your parents would start to worry about you? No, Bitches Brew did something far more forbidden. It took a music form and elevated it to a higher level. As a result, many fans of the old school did what they could to undo the damage. The more open-minded trusted Davis's visionary work. And as you can see today, we are immeasureably for the better. Non-jazz fans need not look further than Radiohead's OK Computer to see the results of Davis's work.