A bit of a paradox here… Despite the title, not necessarily a “live” album, with half the tracks recorded directly in the Columbia studio, and the remaining tunes being spliced together from different performances, recorded December 1970 at DC’s The Cellar Door. So in that regard, Live Evil does not serve as a pure documentary to a specific concert event. Though aren’t there many other well renowned live recordings that take liberties here? (Let’s just start with Kiss Alive!, and move on from there).
The Cellar Door performances feature most of the same players as the Isle of Wight Festival, as captured on Bitches Brew Live – Jack DeJohnette, Keith Jarret, Airto Moreira and Gary Bartz playing like bad mothers here. Bass chores are now handled by Michael Henderson, who is the perfect compliment to Dave Holland. Chick Corea, though present on the earlier studio recordings, has departed by the time of the Cellar Door performances. John McLaughlin is on these tracks as well, having been a veteran of Miles’ earlier electric studio recordings (In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew)
Sivad kicks off, with deep dirty funk. DeJohnette drives home the beat – drives it hard, making no mistake where the 1, 2, 3 & 4 are. Airto on the other hand acts like the downbeat’s adversary, with relentless syncopation. There’s a lot happening on top, particularly between Miles and McLaughlin, but yet nobody steps on any toes. Miles has fully recognized the wah effect for trumpet by this point, and expoits the shit out of it. There are the drastic shifts in texture, tempo and rhythm you’d expect from Miles’ crew during this period. And even an abrupt (studio) splice at the 11-minute mark somehow works, leading to an extended dirge-like version of Honky Tonk (for which a studio version wouldn’t be formally released until Get Up With It in 1974.)
What can I say about What I Say that hasn’t been said. This is one of my personal favorites, and appears pretty consistently through this six-year period of live recordings. Keith Jarrett takes the first pass, integrating single-note runs between rich chord textures. Miles joins him shortly into the jam, opting to begin pretty near the higher end of the trumpet’s spectrum, before soaring into a series of nearly flawless flourishes. The tempo is up on this track, and the energy is relentless. Yet somehow, once Miles has left the center stage, Gary Bartz ups the ante, and you really hear DeJohnette begin to shine through (and is even given his own extended drum solo).
Funky Tonk transitions from a bit disconnected to slow and dirty – another drastic change in tempo and texture. With additional transitions, the band begins to explore the space between the notes a bit more, with drums and percussion ensuring the jam continues to drive forward. One can mistake that there’s not much happening in the latter half, but there indeed is, and it’s difficult to pull off. As we near the end, around the 18-minute-mark, Keith Jarrett is left to his own device, performing a one-man neo-classical duet on Fender Rhodes and Contempo Organ that ends in resounding applause. If you listen past the virtuosity and distorted keyboard here, there actually a sort of tenderness. But throw that sweetness out the door quickly… With the final transition, and the band abandons any old-school jazz sensibilities they may have held onto, for perhaps the biggest rock-and-roll finish to a jam possible.
Inamorata and Narration is a wholly unique piece. One would think this (any) group would run out of ways to dish a slow, dirty groove… but not this crew. While Miles commands his instrument, you can hear a bit of struggle from Gary Bartz on saxaphone. But it’s a struggle he ultimately overcomes, and it’s this urgency for Bartz to persevere that makes his contribution so successful. This final piece starts to become disjointed towards the end. And even though the group as a whole feels as if they’re about to get lost, it’s as-if each player manages the compass at a singly different time, and through some unique individual moments, are able to steer the tune towards a close.
As the title insinuates, there certainly is a narration found at the end of this piece. Normally a voice-over overlaid on top of a live concert performance would seem ridiculously disruptive. But Producer Teo Macero works magic, and these are “kitchen-sink” type performances already, so it works. As a matter of fact, it works really well.
The tracks recorded at Columbia Studio B are vastly different – Carefully crafted with slow tempos, lush harmonies, and deliberate melodic resolutions. I’m going to be honest, thatI struggle to sit in front of them and dedicate myself. There’s some good composition here, but not earth-shattering. Absent from the Columbia tracks is the drive of the drums, upfront. Absent are the ostinato funk melodies, played on a bass with just the perfect amount of fuzz. Absent is Gary Bartz on saxophone and John McLaughlin on guitar. Absent is the shock and awe approach Miles takes as a leader, and so therefore absent is that “what the fuck did I just listen to?” reaction from your friend when you play this for them for the first time.
It’s the Cellar Door tracks that make this record.
What I Say
Inamorata and Narration by Conrad Roberts