Pop: Like nothing you've ever heard before

Phil Johnson celebrates the remastering of Miles Davis's Bitches Brew

WHEN THE double album, Bitches Brew, was originally released in 1970, it came as an electric shock to many of Miles Davis' critics and fans, despite the superficially similar sound of his previous album, In A Silent Way. Nearly three decades later, and now bigged up into four CDs through the addition of nine previously unreleased tracks from the same sessions, the shock-value of Bitches Brew has hardly abated at all.

It's shockingly good for a start, and given the superb quality of the newly remastered recordings, it actually sounds better than it could possibly have done before. But that isn't the half of it. Incredibly, the music still carries its original punch (and punching was what the boxing-mad Miles was into at the time), in a way that makes it seem, if anything, even more uncompromisingly modern. Davis's darkling trumpet feints and parries around the other instruments with a grace and power that is quite transfixing.

Part of the glory of Bitches Brew lies in the fact that it really does come from a golden age of musical invention, where new instruments and technology (the Fender Rhodes piano, the Echoplex) meshed with a new form (incipient jazz-fusion), and new groupings of musicians, and at a time when Miles himself was on a roll. At the end of a decade of continual experimentation, Miles was leaner and fitter than he had been for years, and his ear was increasingly attuned to the sound of rock and R&B.

Although there has always been a controversy about how far Clive Davis (the boss of CBS at the time) was responsible for pushing Miles in a more "commercial", rock-influenced direction, it seems that Miles didn't need much pushing, and the thought that Bitches Brew could ever be considered a primarily "commercial" undertaking now seems quite absurd. The album did sell well and it helped propel Miles to stadium-status as a live act, but even before it was released, he had made the cover of Rolling Stone and was attracting a whole new constituency of fans. According to the drummer, Tony Williams (who left the band just before the sessions were recorded), Miles's aim was both to go further out, and to get more basic, at the same time. Perhaps most importantly, Bitches Brew made him truly hip again, and hipness was what Miles liked best of all. If John Coltrane's parallel journey was mainly an inward one, Miles favoured the flash and filigree of public display.

The far-out elements on the album derive partly from the influence of Joe Zawinul. Although Zawinul also left the group at this time, he played on some of the sessions and five of his compositions were used, while Miles continually quotes from other tunes, such as In a Silent Way. The more "basic", R&B elements derive partly from the unusual line-ups of the ensemble, with two drummers, two keyboards and two bassists, plus guitar and percussion, often used for the same track, creating a thick, funky soup of sound. Adding occasional sitars and tabla drums to the mix, along with Bennie Maupin's burbling bass clarinet (a master-stroke of creative casting), helps provide the mystery factor that makes Bitches Brew quite unlike anything else you've ever heard.

As to the luxurious box-set itself, and the previously unreleased tunes, you can quibble about whether the original double album really justifies such reverent treatment, but if more is being offered, you might as well take it (and the improved sound quality is enough on its own to make the set essential). The additional tracks are sometimes rather meandering grooves, but so are some of the originals. You also get the bonus of hearing Miles's inimitable vocal growl as he talks to producer Teo Macero through the studio intercom.

Bitches Brew is one hell of a record, then and now.

Miles Davis: `Bitches Brew' (Sony, 4CD Box Set)

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tv 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there