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Live at the Fillmore East: March 7, 1970

Columbia/Legacy 85191

Tabbed by a multitude of journalists as the lost quintet, "Live at the
Fillmore East," illustrates the panache which Davis's musicians incessantly
exhibited throughout the bandleader's tenure. However, describing the
quintet as "lost," potentially eschews specific issues concerning the band
beyond mere logistical, business dilemmas. After recording "Bitches Brew,"
Davis wanted to enter the rock arena, to "show the shit ass rock performers
how to really play," but could not tour with an exorbitant number of
performers. The depth of "Bitches Brew," and multiple layers became eschewed
for more streamlined versions, thus allowing Davis to reclaim the job
description of musical raconteur in his infamous quintet format.

The "lost" notion, which journalists describe, should refer not only to the
inadequately documented moments of the group, but the fact that the Fillmore
East musicians are honored as Davis's last great quintet (rather than the
much heralded 1968 lineup). With such an argument established, the chaotic
music on the two-CD "Live at the Fillmore East" carries further weight and
retrospection. In analyzing Davis and his cohorts' creations, the songs and
soloing carries the redolence of the past: Davis's omnipotently cathartic
phrasings augmented with high performance solos, Wayne Shorter's extension
of Coltrane's avant-garde pedigree, Dave Holland walking his bass like
Chambers augmented by Jack Dejohnette's swinging cry to Tony Williams with
each emphatic crash. Only Chick Corea's electric piano, augmented by a phase
modulator, divides the 1970 quintet from Davis's past incarnations.

The music has such an acoustic jazz depth, the primarily rock-based crowd
(in attendance to witness the Steve Miller Band) sounds astonished. At the
conclusion of Its About Time/Theme on disc one, the crowd remains
unheard from and dubiously bewildered, leaving the listener wondering if the
document might be a sound stage formulation. A similar reaction can be heard
at the end of disc two, after Davis and his band move through a smoldering
version of Miles Runs the Voodoo Down and Spanish Key, which
ranks among the finest improvisational moments ever recorded.

In many ways, Davis and his quintet were rewriting the styles and elements
employed in improvisation, thus being overtly arduous for rock fans to
grasp; an understandable state of affairs in music circa the late 60s and
early 70s. By 1970, very few bands in the rock arena truly grasped
collective improvisation; some – like the Grateful Dead – did, but they
rarely contained the musical aplomb or education to cleverly move from one
key or time signature to another in a seamless manner.

Davis, in comparison, had already achieved the paradigms for such
improvisation (arguably as early as 1959) as evidenced by the "Live at the
Fillmore East" release. On disc one, at 8:28 of the opening
Directions, Davis plays a four note, inverted form of Spanish
Key. The band, hearing Davis phrase, begins to sonically mutate
Directions, as Corea plays a phrase in a different key and Holland
shifts to a bass line incorporating elements of Directions and the
forthcoming Spanish Key. Twenty seconds later, the whole band enters
Spanish Key, which twists and turns through numerous stylistics
moments which today would be described as MMW-esque, drum and bass, ambient
and classical.

If "Live at the Fillmore East," can be described as the lost quintet, there
are a plethora of reasons for such an argument, but the most important might
be how the album pertains to the history of music. No current collection of
musicians approaches Davis's experiments in 1970 and very few will reach the
intellectual and musical sophistication of his pursuits. The music has a
depth and vitality very few performers, jazz or rock, could come close to
creating; making the quintet anything but "lost."

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