There is the purist contention that Miles Davis' Bitches Brew is nothing but undifferentiated noise… which is‚ in a word‚ bullshit. If you listen to Davis' most notorious recording all the way through‚ you understand that every note and passage comes from a design Davis developed with his "Second Great Quintet": Instead of making himself the focal point‚ Miles practiced a brilliant misdirection by mostly playing melodic foundations and giving the "counter" the lion's share of the improvisational action.
This was frustrating to anyone who worshipped Davis' early recordings‚ but it was a towering revelation for anyone with open ears and a willingness to listen. But above all‚ everything on Bitches Brew happened according to plan. As such‚ the heavyweight octet assembled for Bitches Brew Revisited had to be absolutely sure of the paths they were going to take (both individually and as a group)‚ or they would find themselves at the bottom of a deep‚ dark abyss. And while this 40th-anniversary "re-examination" didn't fall off the mountain‚ there were moments when it was hanging onto the edge by the tips of its fingers.
DJ Logic treated us to an overture of sorts‚ playing the opening "movement" of the title track to In a Silent Way‚ the precursor to Bitches Brew. Logic processed the piece through various effects and added a few of his own‚ upping the weirdness factor; this may have been in keeping with the aforementioned "undifferentiated noise" theory of Bitches Brew‚ but it diluted the stark‚ call-to-prayer aspect of "Silent Way." As the recording progressed‚ the band took their places and began to play‚ picking up the "Silent" groove as Logic folded it into the live performance‚ a rising tide that slowly became "Pharaoh's Dance."
Antoine Roney's bass clarinet worked off Miles' original lyric‚ but Roney did some snake-charming of his own while drummer Cindy Blackman worked the ride cymbal and Adam Rudolph cranked up the conga. Wearing red surgical scrubs that looked pink in the stage light‚ Melvin Gibbs was less Ron Carter than he was Michael Henderson‚ sticking to a meat-and-potatoes bass line and letting Blackman & Rudolph do all the heavy lifting. They had captured the groove‚ and they covered it like a tent all evening‚ with Logic giving it a nasty industrial vibe. Cornetist/co-leader Graham Haynes' right-of-center work station blocked my view of Rudolph‚ but I had a straight shot at the titanic Blackman‚ who was totally in her element.
I wasn't joking when I said Haynes had a "work station": A small mixing board and a laptop were arranged on a table next to a stool‚ and when Haynes wasn't playing his horn or conducting the band through a difficult section‚ he sat on the stool and followed charts arranged on a lighted music stand. Haynes had Davis' sharp unmated sound nailed‚ and his staggered-unison work with Roney's reeds echoed the otherworldly sound Miles achieved with Wayne Shorter. Roney's a lot like Branford Marsalis‚ in that he deserves the critical love his brother gets on a regular basis. Roney absolutely flew on soprano sax‚ driven by Blackman and Rudolph's muscular percussion.
Unfortunately‚ Haynes weighed some of his lines down with effects that ranged from unnecessary to downright painful. What's more‚ there seemed to be no rhyme or reason for the effects he chose‚ introducing a randomness that had no business here. This same problem hamstrung what could have been one of Logic's best contributions: Sound clips of Davis himself that were used as a bridge from one piece to the next. Quotes like "Once I do something… it's over" gave insight to the mentality that still bedevils Miles fans to this day‚ but Logic kept fading the clips out in mid-sentence‚ regardless of whether Davis was done with a thought. Aside from being disrespectful‚ it also seemed like there was no cohesion between the clips and the overall performance‚ leaving the impression that the clips were only there to make the show sound high-tech.
Consistency in the sound mix treated James Blood Ulmer and co-leader Marco Benveneto separately-but-equally badly. Benveneto's Fender Rhodes work was outstanding… when we got to hear it‚ which was not often; conversely‚ Ulmer was far too loud at times. This might have been interesting if Ulmer was shredding like he used to back in the day‚ but he had a tentativeness that seemed to accord Bitches guitarist John McLaughlin far too much reverence. Ulmer could have had a blast on the big chords of "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down‚" but the opportunity was missed.
Overall‚ Bitches Brew Revisited came off like the first performance of a really good concept: Uncertainty and seeming unpreparedness undercut the flashes of individual brilliance‚ and modern-day technology took away more than it added. There's no question the music these players create in their separate lives results from what Bitches Brew wrought over forty years ago. But‚ again‚ it was over forty years ago. And after Miles Davis did it… Well‚ it's over.