The Music Lounge

Miles Runs the Voodoo Down

In praise of ‘Bitches Brew’

Bitches Brew by Miles Davis was a seminal album in the history of jazz-rock. Recorded in 1969 and released the following year by Columbia it was recorded in typical Miles fashion. Guest musicians received little notice and offered sparse direction in the studio and according to Miles it drove them to a higher level of concentration on their own and fellow musician’s performances.

But from the start Miles called the shots. A tempo changes here, a key change there. This album was a giant leap for Davis, leaving behind the elements that had brought him both popular and critical acclaim he embraced the culture of the time and moved towards more aggressive, funkier grooves splitting his audience in two. The traditionalists who loved ‘Round About Midnight’ where as far removed from those fans on the other side marvelling at the distorted freewheeling solos of John McLaughlin as you could get.

The makeup of the band wasn’t all new; Miles recalled Joe Zawinul, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, Wayne Shorter and McLaughlin who had all played on ‘In a Silent Way’. A young Lenny White was brought in on drums in place of Tony Williams with Billy Cobham joining for the track ‘Feio’.

This album not only signalled a transition in jazz culture and philosophy but it would act as the precursor to some of the most important jazz-rock-funk groups of the 1970s and 80s. Zawinul and Shorter went on to form the incomparable Weather Report, Lenny White joined Chick Corea in Return to Forever which gave us Stanley Clarke and Al di Meola whilst McLaughlin formed the definitive jazz-rock group of the decade, The Mahavishnu Orchestra with Billy Cobham. These musicians embraced the philosophy of Bitches Brew and its African influences and looked beyond America for inspiration. There was an undiscovered musical world in Europe, India and the African subcontinent and it was the protégées of Davis and this album who were at the forefront of that exploration.


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