The 1970s were a funny time for jazz. Even as jazz musicians broke new ground and some rock audiences embraced jazz fusion, the market for straight acoustic jazz was withering away to nothing. In a way it makes perfect sense. The best jazz fusion-- Weather Report, Herbie Hancock's Headhunters, even Miles Davis' cocaine-fueled funk-rock tirades-- were aimed explicitly at a consumer audience with ears for electronic sounds and straight 4x4 rhythms. On the other hand, acoustic jazz in the 1970s was in general a distinctly post-everything affair. All the old movements had run their course or had gone back underground, and there wasn't much development going on to keep casual jazz fans from putting on a Sly Stone record instead.
Naturally, this state of affairs led to some very fine music being made and immediately filed away without release. Columbia Legacy (an appendage of Sony) has begun pulling out some of these old never-weres and finally giving them a US release. Even if the jazz audience in 2005 is just as small and far more fickle than in 1977, Columbia/Legacy's new-old releases show us that looking backward sometimes means finding out just how much we missed the first time around.
VSOP was an on-again off-again supergroup consisting of the four backing members of Miles Davis' second quintet. Without Davis to guide (dominate) them, Herbie Hancock became the de facto leader of a quartet that also included Wayne Shorter on saxophone, Tony Williams on drums, and the ubiquitous Ron Carter on bass. The group toured and recorded in 1977, then reconvened every so often through the early 1980s. They were big in Japan, their domestic popularity crippled by accusations from the jazz establishment that their fusion experiments had desecrated the hallowed legacy of jazz itself.
VSOP recorded the double live album VSOP: Live Under The Sky direct to digital tape over two nights in Japan in 1979 in front of an enthusiastic audience, with each night’s (identical) set included in full. Living up to the great 70s tradition of killer double live records (see: Frampton, KISS, Queen, Zappa), Live Under the Sky is a world-beater, a stunning, white hot, smack-your-mother tour de force of post-everything acoustic jazz.