In shifting from jazz to funk and rock-infused music, Miles Davis became a perplexing but mythical creature. The moments, ones captured on countless recordings, have become the stuff of legend, with the late icon setting the standard for borderless sound.
With Live at Montreux, out now thanks to Eagle Rock Entertainment, Davis’ genius is captured from a number of headline appearances between 1973 and 1991 at Switzerland’s Montreux Jazz Festival.
The DVD contains material from seven performances over the span of 18 years.
Opening with Davis’ debut 1973 performance of “Ife,” Live at Montreux is suitably bizarre and tricky. The trumpeter wanders around, running his instrument through an effects system that includes wah-wah, while loose rhythm pats out to an imperceptible clip. The number, named after percussionist James Mtume Foreman’s daughter, was originally recorded for Big Fun.
In its form here, “Ife” is 27 minutes of sprawling, confounding, free funk laid out over Michael Henderson’s bass. Amazingly, the DVD features the first-time footage of this band (saxophonist and flautist David Liebman, guitarists Pete Cosey and Reggie Lucas, Henderson, Foreman, and drummer Al Foster) has been seen. Davis conducts traffic, moving from trumpet to Yamaha YC45 organ while sweating profusely. It’s quite a sight and, as you can imagine, quite a sound!
Davis would “retire” in 1975 “due to increasing health and personal problems,” but the man was back to Montreux in 1984 with a brand spankin’ new line-up that included John Scofield on guitar, Bob Berg on sax, Robert Irving III on keyboards, Darryl Jones on bass, Steve Thornton on percussion, and Foster, the dude from the earlier set-up, back on drums.
According to Berg, it was this group that fuelled the run of Montreux performances captured in highlight form on this DVD. “He was killing,” Berg says of Miles. “His range was better than ever and it was exciting to be there.”
Playing in front of banks of synth and percussion, Davis owns numbers like “Speak: That’s What Happened,” “Pacific Express,” “Heavy Metal Prelude,” and “Jo Jo.”
To wrap, Live at Montreux Highlights brings in a pair of pieces from the iconic Sketches of Spain. The performances, from 1991, come touched with memories of Gil Evans’ death in 1988 and an almost reluctant Miles Davis. The two pieces, “The Pan Piper” and “Solea,” are packed in front of a large ensemble with Quincy Jones serving as conductor.
Davis, in spectacles and sometimes straining to deliver, is zeroed in on by a close camera. From the wrinkles on his hands to the sweat all over his face, this is something remarkable. Giving a light touch to fellow trumpeter Wallace Roney, Davis is off. And he would die just three months later in September of 1991.
Moments like these are captured continually, most of the time without our awareness, and we have no idea of knowing how special something is until time passes. In the case of Live at Montreux, these glimpses and songs are truly exceptional. Time, whether it catches us peering over our glasses or modestly trying to return to form, never waits around.
There is a definitive boxed set of DVDs from the Montreux shows coming out later this year from Eagle Rock, but this highlight package will surely appease Davis fans until then. Also, there is a bonus feature on this disc worth checking out — an interview with Carlos Santana about the magic and mystery that is Miles Davis.
This was originally published as Music DVD Review: Miles Davis – Live at Montreux Highlights 1973-1991 at Blogcritics.org