JJ 09/73: Miles At The Rainbow

Fifty years ago, Ron Brown saw Miles Davis in London with an exciting band including Dave Liebman but little of the leader himself. First published in Jazz Journal September 1973

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Miles Davis in Bitches Brew days. Photo courtesy CBS

It’s now a couple of months since Miles Davis played the Rainbow, but from a musical standpoint his performance is remembered with a haziness more appro­priate to a much longer period. The basic facts are these: Miles has grasped, with his usual unerring judgement, how to succeed with the wider audience he now aims at. The emphasis is on visuals, and Miles himself, wearing beautiful clothes and looking wonderful for a man of 47, is visuals epitomised.

He’s managed to whip his line-up of saxophonist, guitarist, bassist (and an electric sitar player inaudible on the night) drummer and conga player into an exciting, swirling rhythmic unit, as recognisable as a Miles Davis ‘sound’ as were the quintets with Coltrane and Shorter, and although the guitarist was a hesitant soloist, Dave Liebman got off some reasonable solos on tenor and soprano.

The amazing and al­most heart-breaking crunch lies in the fact that Miles himself hardly plays at all; he just spits a strangled bleep into the action every couple of minutes, and we’re left with an efficient backdrop with noth­ing to back up. The stretches of com­pelling trumpet over a similar accompa­niment on the ‘Live/Evil’ album showed what he can do in this situation, but he just doesn’t do it any more. And although I was saddened and disappointed by a Miles Davis concert that had everything but a substantial helping of Miles Davis, the feeling that’s stayed with me longer has been plain old bewilderment.