Miles Davis Week – Day 1: Music To Read Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew By?

Day 1 of my Miles Davis blogging

333sound

TO CELEBRATE THE UPCOMING RELEASE OF OUR 110TH 33/13 ON  BITCHES BREWWE’RE PLEASED TO BRING YOU THE VERY FIRST INSTALLMENT OF MILES DAVIS WEEK BY AUTHOR GEORGE GRELLA JR. !

Music to read Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew by?

Maybe so. 33-1/3 books, who have their own Spotify account, asked me if I wanted to put a playlist together for them as part of Bitches Brew week here at 333SOUND. Of course I said yes, I’m no fool. Then I started to put it together. Countless man hours later …

https://open.spotify.com/user/gtra1n/playlist/0zXQ4QVj8NtnhrwHJFCo31

This is actually the third version, once revised. What began as a mix of music that come before and after Bitches Brew, from Miles and others, turned into (after seemingly endless listening and hemming and hawing) a limited playlist that relates to my book chapter “Directions in Music by Miles Davis.” The purpose of that chapter and…

View original post 408 more words

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Keeping Up

The ongoing process of keeping up with the blog continues. But meanwhile, and as per the usual, I’m keeping up with music everywhere, and the words continue to spill out in other places. To get everyone caught up (including myself), here’s what’s been going on since my last major post:

IMG 2318

  • I spent a couple weeks in the Czech Republic, most of them in the city of Ostrava, at the Ostrava Days 2015 festival of new music and classics of modernism. I wrote a long article on it at Music & Literature, and a long editorial on it at the Rail. What is missing from both is how so much of the experience there is spending time with other musicians and composers, talking with Bernhard Lang about King Crimson and Miles Davis, for example, or coming back with CDs from — all of which I recommended:
    • Martyna Poznanska played some of her sound-collage electronic music and gave me her excellent CD, Listening East. You can hear a generous amount of her work at her Soundcloud page, and buy her music at Bandcamp.


    • Cellist Jujo Laitinen was outstanding in the festival, playing Tristan Perich’s great new piece Formations, as well as a beautiful, late night performance of Saariaho’s Petals. You can listen to excerpts of his playing at his site, and order this fine CD he gave me, Cello, Voice and Sampler.
    • And thanks to Christopher Butterfield, I came home with a handful of CDs of music by Rudolf Komorous, a strangely obscure but wonderful composer, still teaching and writing. This stuff is hard to find if you are outside of Canada, but do keep an eye out for performances and recordings.


  • I wrote a feature in the September Rail on tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger, and the rugged and involving music he’s making is now out on his CD Pivot: Live at the 55 Bar. This is one of the leading jazz releases of the year.

  • My new year, i.e. the New York City classical music season started again last month, and you can catch up with my reviews at the New York Classical Review site. These are ongoing, so check back regularly or grab the RSS feed—as I write this, I still have four more concerts to go this month, and who knows what awaits in November?

  • As I’ve written before and can’t write enough (your mileage may vary), my first book, on Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, is out this Thursday, 22 October. I have a handful of book events lined up, where I’ll be reading, playing some music, talking about the man and the record, and of course signing books. First one is Monday, 26 October, 7 p.m., at Book Court in Brooklyn. You can keep track of them all at this blog.

  • Finally, this week is also Bitches Brew week over at the 33 1/3 Books site, where I’ll have posts all week long on topics on and around Miles Davis, with hours and hours of music on playlists and some amazing videos of the man. Plus a review of Don Cheadle’s movie on Miles, Miles Ahead. The first playlist is here, five swinging hours of Miles and the music in and from his world, from the 1930s up through summer 1969, just before the album sessions. Enjoy, and check out the rest. I’ll be there all week.

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Master Brew

9781628929430.jpg

Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, by yours truly, drops one week from today—22 October. You’ll be able to pick it up at any well-stocked bookstore in your area (here’s a list of bookstores that carry the series, although there are certainly book sellers who are not on the list), and of course you can still pre-order it, at a discount, from Amazon.

There will also be a handful of book events, and if you come to one I will sign your copy! You can catch me talking about the book, about Miles, and playing some of the music at:

  • October 26: BookCourt in Brooklyn.
  • November 5: Word in Greenpoint, where I’ll be appearing with Bryan C. Parker, who wrote the 33 1/3 on Beat Happening (buy his book too!), and series editor Ally-Jane Grossan.
  • November 11: Spectrum—this is a special event, a listening party, where we will listen to Bitches Brew on vinyl through Spectrum’s state-of-the-art sound system. There’ll be book talk too, and I’ll have copies to sell at a discount (cash only).
  • November 20: Librarie Drawn & Quarterly in Montréal, with more music, Miles, and book talk. I’m already expecting a good crowd of Miles Davis fans.

I hope to see you at any these events, but if you can’t make it, do buy the book. It’s good. And it’s Miles.

I sign an advance copy of Miles Davis' Bitches Brew for Elvis Costello.
I sign an advance copy of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew for Elvis Costello.


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Join The Club

Over at 333sounds, my editor announced that there will be a new open call for book proposals, with notice and guidelines going up at the end of June, and proposals dues in early August. Time to get your shit together.

Series Update/Open Call News/You’ll Want to Read This One:

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blockquote>

Dear Readers,

For the past 11 years we’ve been publishing these tiny little books on the best-loved (sometimes hated), most popular and often most misunderstood albums in pop, rock, soul, hip-hop and electronic music.

And we’re still going VERY strong. Thanks to an amazing crop of books over the past two years, the 33 1/3 series re-launch under Bloomsbury Academic  has been a huge success. Special congratulations are due to Jordan Ferguson for his book on J. Dilla, which was our bestselling title in 2014. And of course to Carl Wilson for his book on Celine Dion, our bestselling title overall.

Around this time last year I posted, on this here blog, an announcement of the open call for new 33 1/3 proposals.  As you may know the titles in the series are selected from proposals submitted from writers around the world. I received over 400 submissions and selected 14 titles to become books. The first of those is already ready and will be available May 21st. That’s Koji Kondo’s soundtrack to the Super Mario Bros video game by Andrew Schartmann. Around then we’ll also publish 33 1/3rds on Devo’s Freedom of Choice by Evie Nagy (with a forward by Fred Armisen) and the Dead Kennedy’s Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables by Michael Stewart Foley.

I’ve got tons of excellent manuscripts coming down the pike and I’m happy to announce that…

the next open call will be posted on 333sound.com at the end of June 2015 with proposals due in early August 2015.

I hope this late summer date will give a lot of you writers/teachers more time to formulate your proposals. Please don’t submit proposal before the official start date as they will not be considered.

As always, the guidelines will generally be the same as last time: you can find those here.  I’ll try and respond to any additional queries in the comments below but please note that I can’t respond to every email I receive.

Did you know that 33 1/3 makes up a very small part of the Bloomsbury Academic music list and in addition to the 33 1/3 series, we publish really neat books in popular music and sound? If you like Kevin Dettmar’s literary take on Gang of Four…then you might like Simon Warner’s Text and Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll. Like Marc Weidenbaum’s book on Aphex Twin? Then you might like eldritch Priest’s Boring Formless Nonsense: Experimental Music and the Aesthetics of Failure.

And in case you haven’t heard, we’re publishing a textbook called “How To Write About Music” this month that I co-edited with Bee Thousand author Marc Woodworth. You might want to pick up a copy since there’s a chapter called “How Pitch a 33 1/3.” Just sayin.

All the best from your faithful series editor,

Ally-Jane

A Bitches Brew Reading List

I’m of course personally excited to be writing the 33 1/3 book on Bitches Brew, and on the most selfish level it’s the perfect reason to either reread my favorite books on Miles or else read ones that are new to me, for information, critical thinking and the overall context of the music. Here’s my current reading list (in no particular order):

  • Miles: The Autobiography, Miles Davis with Quincy Troupe
  • Miles Davis: The Definitive Biography, by Ian Carr
  • So What: The Life of Miles Davis, by John F. Szwed
  • Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis, by J.K. Chambers
  • The Studio Recordings of the Miles Davis Quintet, 1965-68, by Keith Waters
  • Downbeat Hall of Fame Series, The Miles Davis Reader, by Frank Aklyer
  • Running the Voodoo Down: The Electric Music of Miles Davis, by Phil Freeman
  • Miles Davis Reader, edited by Bill Kirchner
  • It’s About that Time: Miles Davis On and Off the Record, by Richard Cook
  • The Miles Davis Companion: Four Decades of Commentary, edited by Gary Carner
  • Miles Davis and American Culture, edited by Gerald Early
  • The History of Jazz, by Ted Gioia
  • Birds of Fire: Jazz, Rock, Funk and the Creation of Fusion, by Kevin Fellezs
  • You’ll Know When You Get There: Herbie Hancock and the Mwandishi Band, by Bob Gluck
  • The Cool School: Writing from American’s Hip Underground, edited by Glenn O’Brien
  • Birth of the Cool: Beat, Bebop, and the American Avant Garde, by Lewis MacAdams
  • The Birth (and Death) of the Cool, by Ted Gioia

You can see the whole list collected here. I’m also deeply curious about Enrico Merlin’s Bitches brew. Genesi del capolavoro di Miles Davis, but I’m wary of getting bogged down in the translation when I should be writing (and if there’s anyone who would like to tackle that for me, I’ll provide a copy of the book as well as acknowledgement and gratitude). Aaaaaaaand, I just discovered this, which appears to be a dissertation set for publication early this year. I imagine the price will drop from $50, but this type of academic book is usually priced out of the market for the general reader.

If you have any reading suggestions or discoveries, let me know in the comments.

It Is In The Brewing Luminous: "Bitches Brew" Buying Guide

UPDATE: Now that I’m writing a book on this album, it’s an ideal time to revisit and revise this previous post from way back when, four years ago, at the 40th anniversary of the release of Bitches Brew. The most important new information is that the burning set in the video, which had previously only been available through the expensive and extravagant Collector’s Edition, can now be had digitally and reasonably over at Concert Vault, for the price of membership plus $5.00. It’s a must-hear, must-have concert.

Soundcheck had a smackdown over which classic recording from Miles Davis was more influential, Kind of Blue or Bitches Brew? There’s really only one possible answer. Kind of Blue is a great, beautiful record, but it’s influence has been relatively slight. Miles’ introduction of modal playing didn’t even shift Coltrane and Cannonball, on the same record, away from their intense and joyous running of changes, and while pretty much every jazz musician who goes through any kind of organized pedagogy works with modal practice and playing (I did in the High School program at Eastman), it never really became a school or style, rather just another tool in the kit.

Fifty years later, Kind of Blue has become an object of popular worship, and that’s problematic. Yes, the music is great and gorgeous, but it seems that what has become more important is the style, the stance, the atmosphere. The record has become a symbol of a certain kind of hipness, a badge of the listener’s qualities, especially the ones (s)he imagines for her/himself. The actual music tends to get lost in the fog of echt-cool. No one seems to actually hear how Coltrane eschews the scales to produce his marvelous vertical solo on “Blue In Green,” perhaps the finest moment in the saxophonist’s career. It’s less an album today than an icon, and icons are made to be broken.

Bitches Brew is the iconoclastic answer, a recording that has had a profound influence on musical culture, from jazz to pop styles and, I believe on the broad range of improvised music that has been practiced across the world over the last forty years. It has none of the seductive style of the previous album, but it doesn’t confront the listener. It presents its powerful, uncompromising stance with an invigorating indifference, with such powerful yet lightly worn confidence in its own qualities that it feels itself beyond criticism, beyond hip, beyond cool. It doesn’t need you to like it, but it knows you need it to like you. It’s also, in its own way, a beautiful record. The question with the recording is not its influence but which package to buy?

There is the 2 CD standard set (and comparable download) that is the original recording along with the bonus track “Feio.” There is also the Complete Bitches Brew Sessions box set, which augments the original with separate tracks, comprising a total of 4 CDs, but those can also be found on Big Fun, although with the box you get a dense, detailed booklet. Unlike the Complete In A Silent Way Sessions, though, there is no material that gives any idea of how the tracks on the original release were actually put together, and the studio process, especially Teo Macero’s tape editing, was integral to the music, which is a combination of tremendous playing and tremendous after-the-fact musical construction.

This basic decision is now complicated by Sony’s production of two new and different editions, the Legacy one and the Collector’s Edition . The latter, an extravaganza priced in the three figures, is packed with a CD edition of the record plus a vinyl pressing of the record plus audio and DVD of the same material in concert plus a book, a “memorabilia envelope” and a poster! Okay! If you have the money to spend, you’re welcome to it, but I think the best choice is the Legacy edition. It’s a 2 CD/1 DVD collection, with the original recording plus material that has long been unavailable (and is on neither the standard edition or the Complete one), single-length edits of “Miles Runs The Voodoo Down,” “Spanish Key,” “Great Expectations” and “Little Blue Frog.” I wonder how often those were heard on jukeboxes? And although there’s no live audio, the DVD is a concert from Copenhagen in 1969, in excellent sound and vintage videotape, the band comprised of Miles, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette burning darkly through some of the best of his late ’60s material. The only thing missing is a reprint of the original liner notes from Ralph J. Gleason in an otherwise fine booklet from Greg Tate. Overall, it’s fantastic.

That alone was worth the cost for me in duplicating my standard set and is certainly the one to get for anyone who doesn’t yet have this music (the iTunes download appears to include the video portion as well) and is highly recommended even for those who do, especially considering the price, at least at J&R last weekend, was $16.99. And for those who don’t yet have this music, why the hell not?

Bitches Brew is one of the great archives of recorded music, a work that has one foot in popular styles, rock and funk, and the other in some of the most intellectually and aesthetically experimental music of the 20th century. It does the impossible, it brings together the strains of American popular musical culture – blues, rock, jazz, funk – parsed through the sieve of musique concrète into the ultimate Platonic emulsification. It’s enthralling and even a bit disturbing, it seems to spring from some ancient collective consciousness that Miles has directed all the musicians to tap into. There’s some secret language that they understand intuitively, they don’t translate it but let us listen in on their conversation. The sound, especially on the title track, can be shattering, Miles trumpet crying out from some far off, mysterious, even frightening land. The “B” disc of the old LP set is slightly more straightforward, with the rave-ups of “Spanish Key” and “John McLaughlin,” the slow burn of “Miles Runs The Voodoo Down” and the repose of “Sanctuary,” with its hints of “Stella By Starlight.” That’s as close as the album gets to song form, though, and that’s why it still sounds as fresh and daring as always. Musicians working in popular forms, even at the creative end of jazz, still have problems breaking loose of song form while maintaining some kind of clear organization. Bitches Brew manages that feat for its duration and that’s because of Miles as bandleader, filling the chairs with cats who can follow his principles. Holland and Harvey Brooks lay down geological bass lines, DeJohnette and Lenny White define the spaces in time, Chick and Joe Zawinul play some of the darkest electric piano on record, McLaughlin, Shorter and Bennie Maupin add smears of color and pithy solos to support the leader. There’s space, density, motion, the music never resolves, but instead of leaving us frustrated and unsatisfied, we just want to come back for more. Dig it.

It Is In The Brewing Luminous: "Bitches Brew" Buying Guide

UPDATE: Now that I’m writing a book on this album, it’s an ideal time to revisit and revise this previous post from way back when, four years ago, at the 40th anniversary of the release of Bitches Brew. The most important new information is that the burning set in the video, which had previously only been available through the expensive and extravagant Collector’s Edition, can now be had digitally and reasonably over at Concert Vault, for the price of membership plus $5.00. It’s a must-hear, must-have concert.

Soundcheck had a smackdown over which classic recording from Miles Davis was more influential, Kind of Blue or Bitches Brew? There’s really only one possible answer. Kind of Blue is a great, beautiful record, but it’s influence has been relatively slight. Miles’ introduction of modal playing didn’t even shift Coltrane and Cannonball, on the same record, away from their intense and joyous running of changes, and while pretty much every jazz musician who goes through any kind of organized pedagogy works with modal practice and playing (I did in the High School program at Eastman), it never really became a school or style, rather just another tool in the kit.

Fifty years later, Kind of Blue has become an object of popular worship, and that’s problematic. Yes, the music is great and gorgeous, but it seems that what has become more important is the style, the stance, the atmosphere. The record has become a symbol of a certain kind of hipness, a badge of the listener’s qualities, especially the ones (s)he imagines for her/himself. The actual music tends to get lost in the fog of echt-cool. No one seems to actually hear how Coltrane eschews the scales to produce his marvelous vertical solo on “Blue In Green,” perhaps the finest moment in the saxophonist’s career. It’s less an album today than an icon, and icons are made to be broken.

Bitches Brew is the iconoclastic answer, a recording that has had a profound influence on musical culture, from jazz to pop styles and, I believe on the broad range of improvised music that has been practiced across the world over the last forty years. It has none of the seductive style of the previous album, but it doesn’t confront the listener. It presents its powerful, uncompromising stance with an invigorating indifference, with such powerful yet lightly worn confidence in its own qualities that it feels itself beyond criticism, beyond hip, beyond cool. It doesn’t need you to like it, but it knows you need it to like you. It’s also, in its own way, a beautiful record. The question with the recording is not its influence but which package to buy?

There is the 2 CD standard set (and comparable download) that is the original recording along with the bonus track “Feio.” There is also the Complete Bitches Brew Sessions box set, which augments the original with separate tracks, comprising a total of 4 CDs, but those can also be found on Big Fun, although with the box you get a dense, detailed booklet. Unlike the Complete In A Silent Way Sessions, though, there is no material that gives any idea of how the tracks on the original release were actually put together, and the studio process, especially Teo Macero’s tape editing, was integral to the music, which is a combination of tremendous playing and tremendous after-the-fact musical construction.

This basic decision is now complicated by Sony’s production of two new and different editions, the Legacy one and the Collector’s Edition . The latter, an extravaganza priced in the three figures, is packed with a CD edition of the record plus a vinyl pressing of the record plus audio and DVD of the same material in concert plus a book, a “memorabilia envelope” and a poster! Okay! If you have the money to spend, you’re welcome to it, but I think the best choice is the Legacy edition. It’s a 2 CD/1 DVD collection, with the original recording plus material that has long been unavailable (and is on neither the standard edition or the Complete one), single-length edits of “Miles Runs The Voodoo Down,” “Spanish Key,” “Great Expectations” and “Little Blue Frog.” I wonder how often those were heard on jukeboxes? And although there’s no live audio, the DVD is a concert from Copenhagen in 1969, in excellent sound and vintage videotape, the band comprised of Miles, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette burning darkly through some of the best of his late ’60s material. The only thing missing is a reprint of the original liner notes from Ralph J. Gleason in an otherwise fine booklet from Greg Tate. Overall, it’s fantastic.

That alone was worth the cost for me in duplicating my standard set and is certainly the one to get for anyone who doesn’t yet have this music (the iTunes download appears to include the video portion as well) and is highly recommended even for those who do, especially considering the price, at least at J&R last weekend, was $16.99. And for those who don’t yet have this music, why the hell not?

Bitches Brew is one of the great archives of recorded music, a work that has one foot in popular styles, rock and funk, and the other in some of the most intellectually and aesthetically experimental music of the 20th century. It does the impossible, it brings together the strains of American popular musical culture – blues, rock, jazz, funk – parsed through the sieve of musique concrète into the ultimate Platonic emulsification. It’s enthralling and even a bit disturbing, it seems to spring from some ancient collective consciousness that Miles has directed all the musicians to tap into. There’s some secret language that they understand intuitively, they don’t translate it but let us listen in on their conversation. The sound, especially on the title track, can be shattering, Miles trumpet crying out from some far off, mysterious, even frightening land. The “B” disc of the old LP set is slightly more straightforward, with the rave-ups of “Spanish Key” and “John McLaughlin,” the slow burn of “Miles Runs The Voodoo Down” and the repose of “Sanctuary,” with its hints of “Stella By Starlight.” That’s as close as the album gets to song form, though, and that’s why it still sounds as fresh and daring as always. Musicians working in popular forms, even at the creative end of jazz, still have problems breaking loose of song form while maintaining some kind of clear organization. Bitches Brew manages that feat for its duration and that’s because of Miles as bandleader, filling the chairs with cats who can follow his principles. Holland and Harvey Brooks lay down geological bass lines, DeJohnette and Lenny White define the spaces in time, Chick and Joe Zawinul play some of the darkest electric piano on record, McLaughlin, Shorter and Bennie Maupin add smears of color and pithy solos to support the leader. There’s space, density, motion, the music never resolves, but instead of leaving us frustrated and unsatisfied, we just want to come back for more. Dig it.