Listening to Miles Davis’s “Lost Quintet”

One can identify a truly creative musician by how that person changes, adapts, and innovates to respond to new information, new situations, and in-the-moment “changes in the weather.” The same holds for creative bands. As I listen closely to concert recordings of Miles Davis’s “Lost” Quintet, 1969-1970, one hears exactly this kind of dynamism. As the personnel gradually changed from the second great Quintet, 1963-1968—first Dave Holland replacing Ron Carter, then Chick Corea replacing Herbie Hancock, and then Jack DeJohnette replacing Tony Williams—the chemistry gets shaken up and morphs. Each player adjusts to the new mix, new input, new directions emerging.

The only recording I’ve heard with Tony Williams remaining in the mix (with Chick and Dave) is so very Tony; it is a virtuoso display, and maybe also a sign that an extraordinary drummer could take hold of the reins of an emerging new band–that hadn’t yet found its moorings as a unit. But soon, with a completely new rhythm section, new things begin to happen. And of course the prominence of riffs and vamps used as musical glue, the terms of engagement change… but not as much as some have suggested. This remains an exploratory, mercurial band until the very end, and continuing after Chick and Dave form Circle and Miles continues with Keith Jarrett and Michael Henderson.

I found 3 1/2 distinct stages in the “Lost” Quintet’s development: 1. In the first half of 1969, Chick and Jack become a musical unit within the band, exquisitely playing off one another; 2. In Fall 1969, on tour after the recording of Bitches Brew, Chick and Dave gel as a duo, in dialog with Jack, with Chick’s playing becoming increasingly angular, serpentine, and dissonant; 3. In Spring-Summer 1970, the sound becomes more electronic as Chick modulates his Fender Rhodes with a ring modulator and other electronic devices, plus Airto Moreira making rather electronic-like sounds on his (acoustic percussion instrument, the) cuica; 3 ½: with Dave playing electric bass, Keith Jarrett on second (actually two more) electric keyboard instruments—Dave and Keith play wah-wah-heavy sounds and along with Chick Corea, creating multiple layers, at times juxtaposed as much as in synch—and Gary Bartz on sax, adding an insistent, distinctly blues-inflected yet sliced and diced motivic layer into the mix. At all points through this development, Jack DeJohnette presents a marvel of multi-layered drumming, offering a clear pulse, but one that contains a constantly changing array of fills and rolls, self-contained interior journeys… all responding to or anticipating an answer from his band mates.

With all this activity, electronics, and high volume, you’d think that everyone find themselves on their own—or become so tightly in synch within the beat that individuality becomes lost. But nothing of the sort happens. The quality of listening actually grows. Not the same fragility of texture offered by the exquisitely close listening Hancock-Carter-Williams version of the Quintet, but something new and different, pointing a way towards how an open approach to improvisation might meet the groove, something that Miles would continue to engage through his first retirement in 1975.

~ by bobgluck on July 30, 2013.

5 Responses to “Listening to Miles Davis’s “Lost Quintet””

  1. Hi there! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give
    a quick shout out and say I truly enjoy reading through your articles.
    Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that
    go over the same subjects? Many thanks!

  2. Hello, Mr. Gluck.

    I’m trying to learn the identity of a piece of Jazz music I recorded off the radio thirty years ago in New York City. This piece is important to me because I used it as a sound track to a 3D animation I made around twenty-five years ago. My recording is only 2-minutes 45-seconds long but I would like to have a copy of the complete recording. The problem is that I don’t know the title of it, nor do I know the name of the artists. It’s not in Shazam’s sound data base and has not been submitted by any copyright owner to Google’s YouTube sound recognition data base either. I have tried posting my querie on several Jazz forums as well as two dozen Jazz Music radio stations, including the station which I believe is the one from which I made the recording, but everyone is stumpted on what piece this is. It seems that I’ve managed to keep something that has been truly lost by the rest of the world.

    Some people who I’ve played this music for think it’s Miles Davis with one of his bands. I believed from the beginning that it’s Mile Davis but I won’t say exactly why at this time. The experts at Miles’ official web site say they believe it’s not him. I’ve even tried reaching out to some of the people who worked with Miles to get their insight on this piece. It seems that most celebraties are too aloof to respond but I did get Adam Holzman to listen to my sound clip and respond. He was Miles’ keyboardist and music director from ’85 to ’89 (the same time period in which I believe this piece was recorded). He says it’s definitely not he himself on keyboard and does not believe it’s Miles on trumpet, though not 100% certain.

    What I think happened to this piece of music is that it was part of a “song book” package that was aquired by one record label from another one that sold out — having occured before the Internet age. These days all record labels/artists submit audio files to Google for scanning to the data base for copyright purposes. Somewhere there is a record label that has had this piece in their song book for thirty years but is unaware of it. So since machines can not recognize this music it’s going to take a human for that. It would have to be the person who produced it or one of the musicians who performed it one day in a recording studio, or someone who recognizes it because they bought it in a record store and has it in their old pile of vinyl records. Aside from my own interests, I feel that the accomplished musicians who sat down in a studio one day and performed this piece should be recognized and receiving royalties for whoever still servives. As it is now, no one of them is getting anything for their work because this piece is lost and I want to bring it back.

    Please listen to it and tell me what you think.

    — Jeff Russell

    • Jeff, thanks for writing. Listening, I don’t find it sounding familiar. The bassist “sounds” like Marcus Miller, so you might ask him. The mix is a bit unusual, with the electric piano so far upfront. Then again, it is a fragment, maybe from an unreleased studio session, and not really mixed down or mastered. The piano sounds is a bit more popular in style than anyone I recall playing with Miles. Certainly not Adam Holtzman. The trumpet does sound like Miles, at least tonally, although the tune is played right on the beat, while Miles, if I remember correctly during that period, played maybe a bit behind the beat. And there’s only the slightest bit of soloing before the fragment quickly ends, so the incomplete quality makes it even harder to assess – whether it is some other musician’s session, played in the style of Miles’s band of that era, or one of very many studio recordings made by Miles during that time period. There’s also no guitarist audible, and these, too, predominated as part of his instrumentation during that time period. Other keyboardists of that time included Robert Irving (before and overlapping with Adam) and Kei Akagi (1989-91).

  3. Hello, Bob.

    Thank you very much for your prompt and comprehensive reply. You are the second person who has suggested that it may be Marcus Miller on base. I’ve already tried contacting him through the message board on his web site and through his FaceBook page and he is not responding.

    I’ve been researching this issue for several months and I find it interesting how trained listeners can pick things out. I always thought that it was a double base used in this piece until I was told that it’s a base quitar (shows how much I know about instruments). I learned from one person that there are actually two base guitarists on this piece which I didn’t realize until he mentioned it and that there is no drummer — a drum machine instead. It is a fragment of a piece only because I didn’t start recording it until after it playing for a while until I decided that I liked it — and worth recording. I don’t think anyone would send a fragment of a piece to an major NYC radio station to be played on the air. This is a finished piece with a beginning and an end, I just didn’t catch all of it. Also there is the question of how probable it is that an unmastered tape would even be printed on vinyl and then sent out for air play on a major NYC radio station.

    Adam Holzman suggested that the keyboardist may have been the Italian keyboardist that worked with Miles immediatly before his time, I forget his name but that information lead to nothing.

    I appreciate your comments about “style” because this is the only kind of stuff I have left to go on. You are the second person I’ve conferred with who has a knowledge of Miles Davis’ transitional periods and can pinpoint what would be a “Miles” attribute at a given time period. I find that your suggestions are farely congruent with the other expert I’ve been able to consult with. I will try reaching out to Robert Irving and Kei Akagi to get more imput on this. Again, your interest is immensely appreciated.

    — Jeff Russell

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