Miles Davis - Bitches Brew - Review
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critics' view

The first thing that Bitches Brew made clear is that Miles was keenly interested in expanding the idea of what his music could be, and was starting to stretch it way out. The title track runs 26 minutes, which then and now is at the extreme end of what a side of vinyl on an LP can hold; the opening "Pharaoh's Dance" also breaks 20 minutes. And these pieces weren't lengthy compositions or single jams, but were assembled by Miles and producer Teo Macero through editing— unrelated tracks could become one piece through the miracle of the razor blade and magnetic tape. For an improvisatory art form that was founded on the idea collective expression in the present moment, the idea of stitching together pieces into a new whole was radical enough on its own. But Miles was changing his approach in several ways simultaneously as the 1960s came to a close. He was processing his trumpet with echo, working with electric keyboards and electric guitar, adding new percussion colors, experimenting with rock rhythms, doing away with chord changes, and building long tracks from riffs and vamps. And, as the liner notes from Greg Tate included with these sets illustrate, he was hanging out with Betty Davis, who was introducing him to new music, and along the way he had become a fan of Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone, and James Brown.

All of these elements swirled together into a record of brilliant and fascinating contradictions. The psychedelic cover art and long electric jams on the one hand anchor the music in Age of Aquarius, but the connections to earlier jazz tradition and unmoored, floating quality of music also lend it a timeless feel. It sounds very much like a bunch of dudes jamming in the room, but some of the abrupt edits serve as a reminder that it owes a lot to technology. It finds Miles distancing himself from his musical past, but it sounds equally far from the dense abstraction his music would take on a couple of years later, especially in a live setting. It was long and hard to get a handle on, but it was also a huge commercial success. Ultimately, Bitches Brew seems mostly like a single beautiful frame from a jarring film filled with jump-cuts. The amount that Miles Davis' music changed from the early 60s to the early 70s is astonishing. His sound was constantly on the move, and this is what it sounded like on those August days in the studio.

Mark Richardson
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Pitchfork is an American online magazine launched in 1995 by Ryan Schreiber, based in Chicago, Illinois, and owned by Condé Nast. Being developed during Schreiber's tenure in a record store at the time, the magazine developed a reputation for its extensive focus on independent music, but has since expanded to a variety of coverage on both indie and popular music. The site generally concentrates on new music, but Pitchfork journalists have also reviewed reissues and box sets. Since 2016, it has published retrospective reviews of classic or otherwise important albums every Sunday. The site has also published "best-of" lists – such as the best albums of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, and the best songs of the 1960s – as well as annual features detailing the best albums and tracks of each year since 1999 (and a retrospective Best Albums of 1998 list in 2018).
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