Columbia Records, 1969
REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/08/2007
Regardless of one’s experience with jazz, I would have to imagine Bitches Brew is one hell of a tough listen. A Charlie Brown Christmas this is not. Bitches Brew more often than not does not sound pleasant to the ear, or contain passages that one could hum to. This is experimental music at its peak.
Barely controlled chaos; this is the best way I can condense Bitches Brew. All the musicians on this album, including Mr. Davis himself, play with a reckless abandon, veering off on tangents, yet everything somehow manages to stay cohesive. This is the sound of a group of people fully in sync with the limitations and capabilities of their peers. That alone makes Bitches Brew a fascinating study in experimentation.
Highlighting singular performances would be pointless; this is not an album of individual moments. That being said, some songs are just better than others. “Pharaoh's Dance,” and the title track are mind-blowingly brilliant. The latter begins with a menacing interplay between all the major players; Davis’ trumpet echoes and careens throughout the song, the bass line is very heavy, and overall the song never conforms to what is “normal.”
“John McLaughlin” is the shortest song on the album by far; coming in at about four and half minutes. This little piece thrown in the middle of giants does catch one off-guard, but makes up for it by truly representing “jazz fusion.” At times, the guitar work is almost bluesy, something very different from normal jazz. “Miles Runs The Voodoo Down” lays down a veritable toe-tapping beat -- again bypassing what I consider to be “normal jazz.”
The scope of Bitches Brew is enormous. Davis was absolutely aiming for a home run, and overall, he knocked it out of the park. The only reason this disc does not receive the coveted “A” is simple. It is an incredibly difficult listen, and that alone could keep many listeners form enjoying it. Regardless, it is well worth the effort.