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Miles Davis' landmark Bitches Brew album sounds better than ever on new audiophile vinyl release.

Music Review: Miles Davis – Bitches Brew

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.

About Greg Barbrick

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