Miles Davis used to address great musicians as ‘bitches’ and he lined up 15 (yes, 15!!!) of the best in the industry, for this ambitious Double LP. His concept for the album was not to write out a chart with specific changes and form, but to give the players ideas for a few chords and for the sound he wanted them to make with it, and then, let them improvise. They would go into the studio and jam on these ideas. Miles' direction to drummer Lenny White was that he was to stir the brew that these bitches made. Hence, the name Bitches Brew. It also had an interesting word-play on the phrase ‘Witches’ Brew’.
Now, that we have the story behind the name of the album, let’s get down to its music.
Right from Cool Jazz to Hard Bop to Modal Jazz, Miles was always miles ahead of the curve, pioneering stylistic developments in the genre. During the late 60’s he turned his attention towards the electric stuff happening in the realm of popular music, Rock, Funk, Soul Funk and Psychedelia. Miles’ visionary mind started forming ideas for something new, yet again. He experimented by mixing these sounds with free Jazz in a couple of albums (Filles De Kilimanjaro and In a Silent Way). But these experiments really bloomed and climaxed in this Double LP. A new genre called Jazz Fusion / Jazz Rock (of course, by the experts) came to existence. Although, vibraphonist Gary Burton had tried something like this in a small way with the recently deceased guitarist, Larry Coryell in the album, ‘Duster’ in 1967.
If one is listening to this album for the first time, it may sound like an unnecessary abundance of random sounds that go on for 15 - 20 minutes. But give it a few listens and then you will start seeing a beautiful pattern, put together in a very well thought out manner. This is because a significant amount of editing was done to all the jam sessions much later by Miles himself and the producer Teo Macero, to get the sound and feel that Miles wanted. Infact, the album pioneered the practice of using the studio as the final place to get the right sound.
Side 1 is owned by Pharaoh’s Dance, with its trance-like rhythm section, slithery guitar riffs by the incredibly talented John McLaughlin (who’d later form Mahavishnu Orchestra, using a page from here) and the urgent trumpet playing by the man himself. Chick Corea and Joe Zawinul's keyboards create a haunting groove that gets accented by the basses of Harvey Brooks and Dave Holland. Side 2 has the title track, a voodoo funk with Miles trumpet sounding as ominous as the doomsday itself with guitar, bass and drums kicking in the funk.
Side 3 has the tracks Spanish Key and John McLaughlin, which continue with the groove. Yes, Miles’s love for John McLaughlin made him name a song after him. Side 4 has the Jimi Hendrix influenced Miles Runs the Voodoo Down, and yeah…the groove continues. The last track is Sanctuary, a Wayne Shorter composition redone as an electric ballad. Here the pace lessens, perhaps indicating that the trance is over and now you can get back to regular.
One of the most remarkable aspects of this album is its rhythm section, which provides the trademark solid groove. Two bassists, two to three drummers, two to three electric piano players, and a percussionist (or two) playing at the same time. Now, have you heard of something like that before…or after?
Finally, the cover art. The great German painter, Mati Klarwein created the still-enchanting gatefold cover for the LP, enrapturing the complexities and the sorcery of the brew. The craft aimed at posterity with a by-line below the name of the album, ‘Directions in Music by Miles Davis’ and it achieved that.
‘Bitches Brew’, in 1970, concocted a spell that still works, even 47 years later. Take a few sips of it and you’ll know what I am saying.
Genre: Jazz Fusion / Jazz Funk / Jazz Rock / Experimental Jazz
Producer: Teo Macero
LP Courtesy: Sony DADC
Meraj Hasan is a Mumbai based communication professional (and an amateur poet/musician) with a passion for listening to music the vinyl way. His 25 year old Technics turntable along with a humble collection of LPs across genres like Classic rock, Classical, Blues and Jazz (amongst others) are his prized possessions.
He can be reached at +91 9833410791 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org