Classical rockings in collaboration and some extra-bonus Miles
Modern classical minimalism has provided inspiration for diverse groups on the rock/pop spectrum with varying degrees—Stereolab and Lightning Bolt are just two that come immediately to mind—but rarely has such a straight line been drawn between both worlds than with the case of Man Forever, the percussion project of drummer Jim Colpitts, a.k.a. Kid Millions from the NYC band Oneida.
The latest Man Forever album, Ryonen, is a collaboration with the esteemed NYC ensemble So Percussion, and the first of two tracks is “The Clear Realization,” which may initially evoke the work of Steve Reich. In particular Reich’s famous piece Drumming comes to mind, where patterns are repeated using different phases, and a sense of order and complexity can be derived from a relatively simple formula.
However, Man Forever’s track keeps the tempo uniform, while each drum plays in a different time signature; as it evolves, rock inflections emerge, plus floating tones of vocals. It gradually gets more furious and passionate while remaining acutely controlled, before finally unleashing cymbal blasts and a primitive ferocity.
The album’s title track begins with a rustling soundstream; each rhythm thread can be pulled to discern its complex pattern, or the beats can be heard as a sonic bundle. There’s a sort of elegance to it, where the tight inner workings are like the inside of a mechanical pocketwatch.
Eight minutes into the song, a thunderous rumble dominates for two minutes before the drums re-enter, with a more free-spirited drum kit; the swift current turns into a sprint, and soothing harmonic tones reveal themselves over the jittery, tense proceedings.
One of the notable things about Ryonen is that it can be thoroughly appreciated from multiple perspectives; rock fans may be drawn to its mounting intensity and vigor, while modern classical aficionados can appreciate its ideas, rigor and clarity of vision.
Regarding trumpeter Miles Davis, biographer Ian Carr called the year between August 1969 and August 1970 “the most productive year of his career,” when Davis recorded material for the earth-shaking fusion albums Bitches Brew and A Tribute to Jack Johnson, pieces that would show up on Big Fun and Live-Evil and a wealth of live performances.
The third installment of Columbia’s “Bootleg Series” collects, in entirety, Davis’ four June 1970 concerts at promoter Bill Graham’s famous Manhattan venue Fillmore East, newly remixed on four CDs with an astoundingly excellent sound quality.
The 1970 double-album Miles Davis at Fillmore offered these performances in a form that was edited by Teo Macero, distilling each approximately 50-minute set down to an unbroken 25-minute track of highlights that would fit on one side of a vinyl record. So, oddly enough, the length limitation of a format and preserving the chronology of the shows ended up drastically shaping the flow of these recordings originally.
As an editor for Davis, Macero is a legend, known for constructively butting heads with Davis over bold, brilliant and sometimes unusual decisions and ending up with modern masterpieces of studio editing such as In a Silent Way and A Tribute to Jack Johnson. For live pieces, Macero’s editing works well on albums such as the dark and furious Live-Evil, but on the original Miles Davis at Fillmore, the sets seem a bit too compressed, without ample room to unfold. So, having the whole performances finally available on Miles at the Fillmore is enlightening and appreciated.
The first half of each night has an identical setlist, opening with “Directions,” “The Mask,” and “It’s About That Time”; although this writer doesn’t recommend listening to all four discs in one sitting, this repetition isn’t tiresome, since the band is adept at keeping things fresh with inventive soloing—there are no carbon copies here.
The stint comes after the departure of Wayne Shorter, replaced here by Steve Grossman on tenor and soprano sax who has big shoes to fill but holds his own. Davis’ own trumpeting is impeccable as always, and his rhythm section—bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette—maintains a high energy level baseline, joined by percussionist Airto Moreira.
That said, perhaps the most badass part is the dual-keyboard configuration with Chick Corea on wah-wah electric piano and Keith Jarrett on organ, providing a rock edge. \
There are three previously unreleased bonus tracks from a Fillmore West show with poor sound quality, and in addition to the obligatory liner notes, there’s a poster that includes reproductions of contemporaneous articles from Rolling Stone, Newsweek and The Village Voice. This is a lot of Miles, from a period that is already well documented.
If you have to ask, “Do I need all this?” then it isn’t for you. For the rest of us who will buy any official Miles release, it’s just perfect.