EDDIE JEFFERSON / “Bitches Brew”
Bitches Brew announced to the world that Miles was now more committed to rock than to bebop-derived jazz (or, for that matter, even to modal jazz). Immediately you hear that this is a heavy rock sound and as such it was a very different aesthetic than previous Miles recordings. Even the two transitional recordings between the jazz and the rock sound (Filles de Kilamanjaro and In A Silent Way) are still easily recognized as primarily jazz recordings. Bitches Brew declaimed something completely different.
Here are three versions of that noteworthy composition. The first is by contemporary trumpeter Russell Gunn, the second by veteran jazz vocalist Eddie Jefferson and the third a live recording by Miles. You might think of the first one as a premium beer, the second as a shot of heavy whiskey, and the third as an LSD-laced cocktail.
Russell Gunn has been experimenting with combining jazz and hip-hop. Surprisingly, his tribute to Miles (Russell Gunn Plays Miles) is the most melodic, the most soothing, the most pop sounding. Like much of rap music at the turn of the 21st century, there’s a strong commercial direction in the approach, and thus it’s a piece you can dance too, or nod your head to, or just throw on as aural background music while your cruise down the street. While that might sound like I’m putting the music down, the truth is this is really good cruising music. Not everything has to be heavy. We all need some lightness in our life.
Eddie Jefferson on the other hand, who was born August 3, 1918, was a founder of vocalese (putting lyrics to famous jazz solos). He was mainly noted for his bebop work but in the Seventies came out of retirement from the music business. Rather than become a nostalgia act, Eddie Jefferson jumped knee-deep into the contemporary music scene. Here he gives us “Bitches Brew” (available on Vocal Ease). Given that this is a Miles Davis song and given Miles’ notorious misogyny, it’s extremely ironic that the hook is “some man did a sister wrong.”
What I like most about this version is that Eddie Jefferson captures the attitude of the song and projects a “nothing nice” vibe while at the same time explaining why it’s nothing nice. Notice that the accompaniment, which verges on being a soundtrack for an outerspace horror flick, is on point in digging into the heavy emotions of the song. One would not expect a senior citizen—Jefferson was in his late fifties when this was recorded—to be singing this kind of music.
The live Miles version is from a concert that took place at the Filmore East (Live at the Fillmore East (March 7, 1970): It's About That Time). The irony is that this version of “Bitches Brew” is much harder sounding than the more famous recording even though the namesake recording had not been issued at the time of the recording. It’s axiomatic, or at least used to be axiomatic, that when you went to hear the major jazz artists live they were often playing music well beyond there current recordings. In this case Miles had been playing the music for almost a year. The band was comfortable. Miles had an edge to his tone that he never regained. Talk about a bad motherfucker. Listen to Miles’ opening solo. He is spitting fire, cursing through his horn, letting loose a demonic howl.
Given the above descriptions and with tongue firmly in cheek, I say: enjoy!
—Kalamu ya Salaam
Funny, but I never thought of the phrase "bitches brew" as being a take-off on "witch's brew." Eddie Jefferson did, obviously. I guess because I've never thought of the song in that way, I found the lyrics unintentionally goofy. I like the band a lot but I just don't like those lyrics. Thing is, Eddie got it right, because in an article I just read about Betty Davis, Betty says Miles initially wanted to name both the song and the album Witch's Brew. Betty says she was the one who came up with the alternate title Bitches Brew and it was she who convinced Miles that her version of the title had a better sound and feel, despite the obvious risque nature. Which reminds me: we need to do some Betty Davis soon.
I like the Russell Gunn a lot. Like Kalamu says, it might not be the most intense or deepest performance, but it lets you hear the song. I dig it.
The live Miles is interesting, but I prefer the classic LP version. What happened to that one, by the way?
—Mtume ya Salaam
If You Insist
Ok, I've added the original to the jukebox. Listening to it again, I know why I didn't listen to it that much when it first came out, and I also realize why I enjoy the live version a whole lot more than the original: to me the original sounds like a not-quite-happening rock band. I think Miles knew where he wanted to go. His music always swung to extremes between blues-based (think everything with Trane, the quintet with Wayne Shorter) and Euro-based (think Birth of the Cool, the Gil Evans collaborations, the rock-jazz fusion stuff). I don't have to tell you which way I lean. The original seems to me to include a bunch of doodling to no specific destination, almost like they don't really know how to solo, except I know they do. What probably was happening is that they were just jamming as opposed to that live set when the band is flat out burning. but I've already said all of this. the last twenty or so minutes are for you Mtume. I always hit the skip button when I get to Miles studio work in this vein.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
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