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Music Review: Miles Davis – Bitches Brew

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From the moment the needle slides into the groove of “Pharoah’s Dance” on Miles Davis’ landmark Bitches Brew lp, the listener is transported. Forty years after its initial vinyl release, the album is back, as a limited audiophile edition double album. And it sounds better than ever.

I have been listening to this for at least the past 25 years, and every listen seems to bring out some new aspect of this dense, adventurous record. There is probably not much a person can add to the discussion of one of the most influential albums in jazz history. But just for kicks I went back and looked at some of the original reviews, published in 1969.

They are illuminating, to say the least. Why the so-called “underground” press did not jump all over Bitches Brew at the time is fascinating when you think about what was being touted as “revolutionary”. In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, anyone? Or how about the endless, meandering blues workouts of Cream? I’m sorry, but remove the drugs and most of that stuff is un-listenable these days.

Not so with Bitches Brew. There are a number of reasons for this, beginning with the unprecedented line up. Just a few of the musicians credited here include: John McLaughlin, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette, and Joe Zawinul. Bitches Brew was the template of jazz well into the 1980s, in a lot of ways defining the last significant era of the music.

And it really is some incredible music. The original release contained but six tracks, each a self contained exploration into the wonders of improvisation. The side long title track may be the best of the best here. The sustained notes of Miles’ lonely trumpet in the opening are simply stunning, heralding a 27 minute journey into his own tortured soul.

Most of side three is taken up by “Spanish Fly”, another cut that reveals more and more with each listen. The obvious comparison is with his own brilliant Sketches Of Spain, but “Spanish Fly” holds it’s own. For one thing, with Sketches Miles was reworking Rodrigo’s “Concierto De Aranjuez”, and “Spanish Fly” is wholly original. But Miles’ playing had evolved in the intervening 10 years as well. “Spanish Fly” really is an amazing song.

I own enough oddball vinyl records to have never ditched my turntable. Having heard people praise the quality of high end pressings such as MFSL over the years, I decided to do a little experiment with this one. I played this 180 gram Bitches Brew record track by track with the CD reissue to see if there really was a difference.

To tell you the truth, the difference was astonishing. It sounded like the band were in the room with me at times with the vinyl version. Those remarkable sustained notes that Miles is so famous for seem to hang in the air forever. I guess I’ll have to stop putting those audiophile snobs down after hearing this.

The original liner notes by the great Ralph J. Gleason are reprinted in the gatefold cover as well, and they are remarkably prescient. This vinyl reissue of Bitches Brew is no mere marketing scam, the sound really is noticeably improved. On a record as uniformly great as this one, it is a welcome addition to the Miles Davis library.

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About Greg Barbrick

  • JANK

    You know, I love Bitches Brew but you lost me when you dissed In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida and Creams blues jams. Un-listenable? Why must you disparage some works? I could go on about the merits and energy of the above works in conjuction with Miles. All are good. All have their moment. Hmmph.

  • Wonder6789

    I could’nt agree more with you about the unchanged brilliance of “Bitches Brew” after 40 years. It’s “Spanish Key”, however, and not “Fly”(???)
    Now you can dis “In-A-Gadda-Vida” all you want, but Cream??!
    How ironic, given the fact that “Bitches Brew” is in great part the result of Cream’s influence on Miles!
    Let me just tell you Cream (and in particular those long live 3-part combustions) has survived the test of time like very few rock recordings of that time.
    Do me a favor: listen to the live “I’m So Glad” on the album “Goodbye Cream”, all 9 minutes and 13 seconds of it, and dare tell me that is not an extraordinary musical moment, or that anything going on right now has ANYTHING on this.
    (And while you’re at it, listen to the rest of the album.)
    Only Miles, Hendrix or the Beatles at their best could touch Cream.

  • pw

    I just recently bought the Bitches Brew re-issue 2xLP on Legacy Vinyl.

    My copy of the 2nd LP was pretty badly warped, so much so that it affected the playback of Spanish Key.

    Seems like there are others facing the same problem too:
    Audio Circle forum thread on warped vinyl of “Bitches Brew” and Vinyl Engine forum thread on warped vinyl of “Bitches Brew”

    Dissapointed with the quality of this re-issue.

  • miles fan

    disappointed with the lack of quality put into the new 180gm lp version of bitches brew,as a previous writer stated that lp 2 was warped so was mine but not enough to make it unplayable,that’s not the worst of it ,the begining of “pharoah’s dance” is almost unaudible unlike the original,i have 7 copies of the originals from different countries and all of them are very clear sounding and loud and 10 times better than this reissue 180gm bs,the stamper pressings on the 180gm reissue are almost identicle to a 1980’s canadian reissue i had that was made in canada,you can also visually see that there is alot more runout groove at the end of sides 1 & 3 the same as the canadian reissue,unlike the originals,did they just reuse the reissue stampers for these? more than likely,also the lp cover does not compensate to hold the lps,due to the thickness of the lps you have to also compensate the cover to hold the lps so the cover does not become a mess of bends and eventually tears,the company that made this new reissue are barbaric and lack any quality at all,i suggest anyone who is looking for a nice copy of bitches brew to buy any 1970’s copies from almost any country,they are by far more clearer and alot louder,you can’t beat the original copies of most lps.oh yeah i bought my new reissue in september of 2009 from beatnick records in quebec,canada,i just threw it in with some other lps i sold on the kijiji in december 2010,i will never part with my 7 original copies of bitches brew especially due to the fact that nobody knows how to make them of quality anymore,it’s the sound being cut into the groove that can and will only make a good lp and the deepness of the groove and you don’t have to waste that much plastic to reproduce this effect,the thickness of the originals was enough afterall it’s suppose to be an lp not a thick 78rpm.

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