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26 December 2011

Miles Davis - 'Live-Evil' (Columbia)

It's to the other side of Miles Davis now, with this record proclaiming it's inner evil, or at least un-goodness.  But Live-Evil is just a palindrome, a title to reflect the dark-tinged yet inevitably circular musings found on these four sides.  There's slightly different personel on different cuts but the liner notes are written in a long, horizontal format that makes it too much effort for me to sort it out.  But all the titans are here - McLaughlin, Herbie Hancock, Airto Moreira, Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett. Here's what's really different from Sketches of Spain - this is rock music, with an aggressive rhythm section (drums are either William Cobham or Jack deJohnette; Michael Henderson, Ron Carter or Dave Holland on bass).  And you know what, Henderson's rockmonotony on 'What I Say' actually takes the cake over the more nuanced bass playing of the bigger names.  This lets Davis and later McLaughlin lay more flabbergasting solos without too much discordance.  It's the dictionary-definition of fusion, but it creeps close to the Dark Side without ever fully leaping in.  The fidelity is hot and I've always preferred this to Bitches Brew though both have that strong, surging riff to start off ('Sivad' here, which lays it on thick and lets the piece swell into a juggernaut, when you can actually feel restraint leaking out of the grooves).  We get solos galore here - deJohnette's lengthy, plodding one on side two is so brightly recorded that it really soaks into the air, and when Jarrett brings in the funky keys to reprise the theme, all is right in the world.  Jarrett also kills it on 'Funky Tonk', with a long, shimmering section of just he and Moreira, which burns like a warm winter radiator.  These are the most clichéd passages - the ones that rely on groove, momentum, and rhythm like we expect a jazz-fusion record to - but since it's records like this that define the genre, it all gets a pass.  But at it's most inventive, Live-Evil croaks, creaks and flounders under it's own rhythmic stress, like a lumbering behemoth of madness.  When Miles tries to cool it off - 'Little Church' and 'Nem un Talvez', for example - the elegiac tones just set up more distrust when the band comes back in.  But it's these moments of respite that make Live-Evil so complete, and such an oddball mishmash of live sessions.  It flows, and it's cohesive, despite being mashed together from different sessions and with different personnel.  Two LPs is a lot, and by the end of side 4, which is dominated by the lengthy 'Inamorata', I'm beached.  It's a record as pregnant with ideas as the fertile African goddess on the cover, and all of the swampy electric licks really create a beast that rages out of control.

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