Why I Love Miles & Weather Report - Part 1 - By Terry Bozzio
They were the best two concerts I have ever seen... first, Miles Davis at the Fillmore West & then Weather Report at Keystone Corner, both in San Francisco ca: 1970. The impression & influence of these events remain strongly with me to this day. My musician friends (film composer) Mark Isham, (guitarist) Peter Maunu & (trumpeter) Tom Chandler (all of whom I went to College with) were the key figures in my life who were to introduce me to these, my favorite musicians. They attended the concerts with me.
To begin with, let's talk about the lineups: Miles had the Bitches Brew core rhythm section of Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland and Chick Corea. Then the innovative novelty and unique expression of Brazilian multi percussionist Airto Moreira. Rounded out by the virtuosic sax player Steve Grossman.
Weather Report was at it's peak with the "I Sing the Body Electric" album personnel: Joe Zawinul & Wayne Shorter (who wrote much of Miles' music), the incredible Miroslav Vitous on Bass (who's soloing with bow & wah wah pedal could mimic Miles' trumpet playing!), the second big name in Brazilian percussion: Dom Um Romao (who on this occasion was joined by San Francisco percussionist Kenneth Nash) and one of my biggest influences on drums: Eric Gravatt.
These star studded constellations of History Making Musicians are remarkable in hindsight based on what they have contributed to music over the years in their own rights. But at that time, those two groups, Miles & Weather Report, had the distinction of acquiring, discovering & introducing the "Best of the Best" to the whole world, and we in the audience knew: if you were playing with them, you were a new force to be reckoned with.
It is a shame that today, I can't think of one group or individual who has that quality of making someone famous overnight by the mere credibility of having played with them.
If you do not know about these musicians, I encourage you to research them & try to understand who they are and how important they were because of what they did at that time.
Before I write about those concerts & musicians individually, I should mention some others in this time period on related albums or who played live with the above: Tony Williams, Herbie Hancock, John McLaughlin, Billy Cobham, Jan Hammer, Lenny White, Larry Young, Alphonse Mouzon, Ralph Towner, Keith Jarret, Benny Maupin, Badal Roy, Mtume & Hermeto Pascoal. On albums such as the first (self titled) Weather Report album, I Sing the Body Electric, Zawinul & Miroslav's Infinite Search. On Miles' Filles De Kilimanjaro, In a Silent Way, Bitches' Brew, Jack Johnson, Live Evil, On the Corner, Great Expectations. Chick Corea's Light as a Feather & Now He Sings, Now He Sobs. Tony Williams Emergency, Turn it Over & Ego. Billy Cobham's Spectrum, Crosswinds, Solar & Shabazz. All were related through Miles, Joe & Wayne, & a part of this wonderful time in Music.
What was happening at this time that was so special to me? I will have to categorize aspects to fully explain...
All the Musicians seem to possess World Class Instrumental Prowess, Virtuosic Technique but tempered with Musical Taste, Restraint, Use of Space, Consonance, as well as a spirit of Originality, Innovation, Experimentation, Searching, Uncovering & Exploring New or Foreign Influences. It goes without saying that they were all Improvisers of the highest level. These types of musicians are capable of what I call "Spontaneous Composition".
Although I did not know it at the time, the Music now seems to me a Fusion of a highly educated European Modern Classical Chamber Music, Organized Sound, with Jazz Improvisation, Blues Licks, Rock Sounds + Volume & Power, New Grooves, Funk Beats & Bass lines, Odd Time Signatures, Electronic Effects & Synthesis, Ambience, Film Score & Cinematographic Techniques, The Influence of Ethnic Styles of World Music (Indian, African, South American, Caribbean, Afro Cuban, Spanish, Asian, French Impressionist), and the Harmonic Depth & Extensions of the most sophisticated Post BeBop sensibilities, peppered with the Energetic Chaos of Avant Garde & Free Jazz, and never far from the seemingly random orchestrational textures & colors of the new percussion instruments, noise makers & found object sounds being introduced to the American Jazz & Rock audiences by the Brazilians. (Sure, Khatchaturian wrote for the flexi-tone in the 30's but I don't think the American Listening Audience ever heard it until Airto played it!)
Let's start with one of several "Break Away" albums Miles created. "Toute de Suite" & "Mademoiselle Mabry" on Filles de Kilimanjaro. To me, this is an example of where Modern Classical Chamber music meets Jazz Improvisers. Intricate compositions, with inovative soloing & ensemble interaction are present. Listen to Tony's melodic soloing on mallets throughout the latter and the evocative counterpoint between Miles & Wayne on the former. (Note also the incredible "Pointilistic Counterpoint" between Keyboards, Bass & Drums for the measures before Miles starts his soloing... this is sheer genius to me! Improvised, in the moment, spontaneous & impossible to duplicate). Also it might be noted that this album marked a break from the generic Jazz ride cymbal pattern accompaniment, "swinging" & the walking bassline. The Fender Rhodes Electric Piano is used exclusively here (although introduced on the earlier album "Miles in the Sky").
You can hear the inception & presence of this evoloution in the 65-68 Miles Quintet on the ballads & tracks:
- Circle (& Freedom Jazz Dance - Bartok's influence with the use of perfect fourths)
on Miles Smiles
All of the above leave a Film Score-like impression that could be traced back to Ascenseur Pour L'Echafaud (Lift To The Scaffold): Original Soundtrack Music by Miles Davis for a French film using Modern Jazz ca: 57-58 that helped define the "sound" of "Film Noire".
"In a Silent Way" introduces Consonance (for our purpose here defined as: the use of notes within the harmony, & chords that are major, including the 2nd, 4th & 6th degrees of the scale, not dark, threatening, sad or dissonant) Restraint (the ability to not use one's technical prowess & virtuosity unless/when it is called for), & Space (playing sparcely, or using long slow notes, phrasing with breath & silence as well as sound). Joe Zawinul's compositions In a Silent Way & It's About That Time expose these concepts to the shock & surprise of musicians everywhere.
Harmonic Pedal Point or use of one singular extended Tonal Center is used here which confused & dismayed BeBoppers who wanted to hear & expected playing over chord changes.
Then I guess we get into the Big Change that brought Miles so much grief & rejection from the Jazz Critics: Bitches Brew. The line-up alone was amazing! The music was really "something else".
This is where I entered the Live Miles experience. What I heard that night was recorded as "Black Beauty Miles Davis at the Fillmore West" on April 10, 1970, but not released on CD until 1997 as part of Columbia Records "Legacy Series". I went having not heard Bitches Brew and not knowing what to expect. My friends who had seen Miles live before, said it would probably be some really fast BeBop a la "Four & More". We had no idea who would be playing. We were excited in line and watched "Stone the Crows" a Brittish rock group open up for him.
Then the band hit the stage looking so cool, modern & hip for that time! Dave Holland was like a hippy with a pony tail & poncho/serape w/ electric & acoustic bass. Chick Corea had on little wire rim shades, a pea coat w/ the collar turned up and his hair was sort of like a Bob Dylan, long & high on top doo. He had a Rhoads as well as an echoplex & ring modulator. Jack DeJohnette was in all black leather with a motorcycle jacket & heavy motorcycle boots... in spite of that his right foot rolls were jaw dropping on his little Sonor jazz kit. Grossman was pretty non discript save for long curly hair & wire rim glasses... he played so well he didn't have to try to be fashionable!
Then Miles walked out in a North Beach Leather suede affair like his pic on the inside cover of "On the Corner"... can't remember if it was light blue or purple, but it was ultra hip and expensive for those days. He had his Martin trumpet & two microphones... one for the right side of the PA & the other for the left. Unheard of to do that!Link to Part 2