The Galaxy – Running the voodoo down

Cover of "Live at the Fillmore East (Marc...

Live at the Fillmore East cover (Cover via Amazon)

I remember, as a young boy, occasionally turning the tv to WSIU, and during the PSAs one might hear some interesting, transcendental, magical, slightly weird (to my 3 year old ears) music.  I didn’t worry about it much – I was completely focused on the fact that Sesame Street was coming up, and I wanted my Cookie Monster/Kermit/Grover/Bert and Ernie fix (rubber duckie, you’re still the one!).  Years later, I believe that I have figured it out – the folks at WSIU were using edits from Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew for these slots.  Absolutely brilliant!  Expose a kid to Bitches Brew while he’s still young enough to not really think about how different it was from the Partridge Family!

Of course, 40 years later, I know just how good that stuff is.  But the incident is brought back to mind on occasions like this, when we break out some live Bitches Brew, from the excellent Live at the Fillmore East (March 7, 1970) release.  Of course, the live version is substantially different from that which we hear on the classic recording.  In fact, I’d venture so far as to say that it is good to have both studio and live recordings of this work.  But this recording is of particular interest, as the sextet that Davis took to the stage is one that never had the opportunity to enter the recording studio, at least not in this lineup – some call this grouping “The Lost Quintet”.  All of the players (Davis, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, and Airto Moreira) participated in the Bitches Brew sessions, but the recording featured a larger band (3 keyboards – Joe Zawinul and Herbie Hancock were also in on it), 2 basses, a bass clarinet, two drums (Lenny White, later to join Chick Corea and form Return to Forever), and John McLaughlin was on guitar.  Also absent from the live rendition of these songs are the numerous tape edits that Davis was using by this time.

But not absent is the unending sense of exploration.  They get into some driving funk on Spanish Key, yet they also do a free jazz freakout on Directions.  This is absolutely must-hear music.  We heard a nice, extended, 5 song set: Directions, Miles Runs the Voodoo Down, Bitches Brew, Spanish Key, and Its About That Time/Willie Nelson.

I figure that it is quite appropriate, since the material is available, to move to what followed Davis’ sextet to the stage – Neil Young and Crazy Horse.  Young put out a 6 song set from that tour stop (Crazy Horse at the Fillmore), with some excellent performances.  We heard Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, Winterlong, and Down By the River.

A slight change of pace (ok, I understate this just a tad) from Neil Young is a sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven.  The sonata in question is his legendary Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13, commonly known as the Sonata Pathétique.  I may have played this a few months ago, but greatness like this is worth a good listen.  Of course, the melodies that Beethoven presented in this beautiful piece of music (i.e. the theme from the 2nd movement) are the sorts of music that tends to stick in your mind, to the point where you might find yourself humming it days afterwards.  This is a good thing.  (I can name at least one person for whom the impact was pretty significant – Billy Joel based the melody for an album cut on An Innocent Man on the theme from the 2nd movement.)

I get an immense amount of pleasure hearing the instrumental interaction between the members of The Cream.  When they were at their best, they created some of the most supple music I’ve ever heard, where the virtuosity was almost effortless.  Tonight we heard Outside Woman Blues (the version recorded live at the BBC), World of Pain, Spoonful, SWLABR (Factoid: the title is an acronym, standing for “She Walks Like A Bearded Rainbow”), and finishing with Badge.


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