Sly Stone may have been this funky, but he was never this heavy.
Bass and drums… Tight! Hard! Guitar and percussion… laying down a heavy groove, just right above. Yamaha organ… Ok, most that is just plain weird. Sax… mother fucker is a master! Miles…
This is what the Family Stone would sound like, if they adopted the members of Hawkwind.
Agharta and Pangaea are the culmination of Mile’s electric period, round about 1975, and make nice bookends to what he started with In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew. A truly distant journey from the languid and carefully crafted Shhh/Peaceful to the two-sided, wailing 40+ minute Zimbabwe. With Bitches Brew Live being the logical introduction to Miles’ live recordings from this period, either/both of these recordings provide a stark contrast. Everything else truly does come ‘somewhere in between’.
Recorded on February 1st, 1975 during subsequent afternoon and evening shows (two sets each, in Japan nonetheless!), Agharta and Pangaea result in over 180 minutes of raw power. Miles was 48 at the time, and he could have easily rode the laurels of any of his previous (tamer) musical identities. Instead he chose to out-power most cats twenty years his junior. Give this a listen in comparison to Song Remains the Same…
Agharta is the generally the more highly regarded of the two. This was the recording from the first show, and folks usually comment that Miles sounds tired during the latter set, captured on Pangaea. But what I hear during the second set is Miles really trying to extend himself. True he may falter and struggle, but he’s giving a go at more daring and melodic lines. For me, all 41+ minutes of Zimbabwe is what really shines. I’ve played this for metal-heads, whose jaws just drop at the sheer audacity.
The early show begins with a really heavy groove from the bass, drums, percussion and guitar(s). I’m not going to pretend to know when it’s Pete Cosey or Reggie Lucas wailing away on six-strings at any particular time, though I could definitely hear a difference between two distinct styles throughout the sets. Miles enters in at the about the 2:30 mark, relying primarily minimalistic melodies based on pentatonic riffs, while also leaning on plenty of trills and his wah effect. It’s good… really good at this point. But at the 8:00 mark, when saxophonist Sonny Fortune enters… holy shit. His playing is in direct contrast to Mile’s, running through strong melodic lines, utilizing plenty of notes outside your standard five-note scale.
The guitar and organ provide more ‘space and noise’ during the Agharta set – More late 60’s Pink Floyd than anything in the jazz section at local record store. I admit that I struggle with the guitar performance during the early parts of Agharta, as it’s more about a perpetual-motion approach to the instrument, with bizarre interludes of effects-noodling and interpolation with the organ However, during the Jack Johnson performances of Agharta, and Zimbabwe portion of Pangaea, the guitar(s) look more to hooks, and simple but reliable melodies, that have me stirred.
The second half of Agharta looks back to Jack Johnson – a studio recording that seems undeservedly under-the-radar. Being already familiar with Miles electric recordings in the studio, I’m very excited to hear the live renditions of this and Maiysha. (Note that the track labeled Interlude, is also absolutely Jack Johnson, and is actually the better of the two jams from the second afternoon set.
Each of these extended tunes are genuine suites. There is zero redudancy throughout the four sets… No two moments sound alike. There is a lot of material here… 180 minutes worth. Two double albums, that translate to two extended CD’s, that translate into listening at your leisure via streaming. All three hours are unique, are hot, and are representative of what Miles and company were doing at the time. Yet I suggest not trying to make a marathon of this, and start by focusing on the strongest tracks.