Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Some Thoughts About Miles Davis' Pangaea
Courtesy of one dedicated Miles Davis fan, we have the entirety of the 1975 acid-funk album Pangaea available to listen. You won't have to touch anything, since all the Youtube segments are on a running playlist. Just hit play and enjoy the brilliant music.
Pangaea is the final fusion album from Miles Davis, the second in a stunning double bill in Osaka, Japan, on February 1, 1975. The afternoon show was recorded for the Agharta album, and the evening show became Pangaea. Shortly thereafter, Miles finally retreated from performing music. He would not return for nearly six years.
I'm a great fan of Miles' 1973-75 acid-funk band, which was captured on the 1974 studio LP Get Up With It, and three live LP's, Dark Magus, Agharta, and Pangaea. All four were double albums and were immensely long. We must remember that the double album was a rare event in pop music during the 1970s. It was something rock bands did once, to prove their chops and their musical output, but largely to follow in the footsteps of The Beatles' White Album. The Rolling Stones had one, Led Zeppelin had one, even Stevie Wonder had one.
It's stunning when you realize that Miles Davis hurled out so many double-LP's, and in such a short period of time. His fusion era only lasted six years, really, if you begin at 1969's landmark In a Silent Way. In that short period of time, Miles had thrown the music world on its ear, revolutionized popular music, and split the jazz community right down the middle. It's a schism that still exists, even though the wounds have greatly healed. It also helps that the future generations have caught up to what Miles was brewing.
The twin shows Agharta and Pangaea represent the final peak of that great and stunning era, the grand summary of everything Miles Davis had furiously sought after. Pangaea, especially, reveals a lot of mellower, more otherworldly music that reminds me of "He Loved Him Madly," Miles Davis' masterfully haunting tribute to Duke Ellington from side one of Get Up. Reminds me of Silent Way, too.
Of course, the spectacular heavy funk jams get all the attention, as well they should. The music on Magus, Agharta and Pangaea is the heaviest music on the planet. This band was so far beyond '70s rock that it wasn't even funny. On the two Osaka shows, the afternoon concert (Agharta) gets all the attention from funk and thrash freaks. But don't discount the first ten minutes of Pangaea's evening show, which is absolutely incendiary.
Pete Cosey's wailing, shredding guitar solos...absolutely spectacular. Guitar God, sandwiched perfectly between Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen. And Michael Henderson's growling bass riffs, Al Foster and Mtume's drumming - this is as good as it gets. There's a confidence, a boldness, to the rhythm section that's a thrill. Sometimes I think they steal the show, especially on the first disc.
There's no question that Pangaea is overall more subtle than Agharta, and we shouldn't be surprised when the band performs two full concerts on the same day. I'm deeply grateful that Miles and crew don't repeat the first setlist on the evening show. Pangaea's vibe is very different, alternately heavier and more ambient. In three hours and four discs, you get the complete Miles Davis experience.
Listen carefully to the Gondwana disc. Its first ten minutes are mellow, mysterious, the Duke Ellington funeral dirge reborn. Then the energy slowly burns brighter and brighter, slowly builds around Pete Cosey, Guitar God. By the 20-minute mark, voodoo funk-metal is in the house. Yeehh....the mood swings are organic, natural, smooth. The visable seams in Magus are invisible now.
One of the great thrills of Agharta/Pangaea is spotting the classic Miles riffs. There's the bassline from "Kind of Blue." There's a couple jams from "Jack Johnson." And there's "He Loved Him Madly," and "Calypso Frelimo." Great ideas for improvisations, of stealing moments instead of performing the full songs. Everything is consumed in the giant organic stew.
And through it all lies Miles Davis, his aching body breaking down, his years of fighting the fusion revolution taking its toll. There's been enough said about Miles state of mind in 1975, and I suspect much of it is merely myth-building, to fit into the readily assembled narrative about burnout and retirement and eventual resurgence. It's hard to say where the real Miles lies. It has always been thus.
The evening concert ends, everything has been said, every ounce of energy left on that stage. I have the feeling that Miles couldn't play another note if he tried. He gave all of himself on these two shows, and you can hear it. There's a tone of sadness in the final minutes, the final dissonant organ wails that hang in the air. This spectacular era of Miles' long career, so reviled and misunderstood, so far beyond its time, is coming to its end.