MILES DAVIS — Dark Magus: Live at Carnegie Hall (review)

MILES DAVIS — Dark Magus: Live at Carnegie Hall album cover Live album · 1977 · Fusion Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
M.Neumann
Along with "Agharta" and "Pangaea" (both recorded in Japan the following year), this is one of three separate but indispensable two-disc sets of live Miles Davis, released at the height of his avant-rock electronic period in the middle 1970s. All three share an uncompromising commitment to the primal nature of pure rhythm, and together form a monolithic trilogy of loud, hypnotic Funk-Rock fusion, with some of the most ground-breaking (and ground-shaking) music ever played in front of what must have then been an unsuspecting but very lucky audience, in this case at Carnegie Hall on March 30, 1974.

Of the three albums, "Dark Magus" is the more vitally alive, and the most powerful by several ergs of unrestrained energy. It was later named one of the 50 heaviest albums of all time, according to a Q- Magazine poll in July of 2001 (King Crimson's "Red" made the same list, which shows exactly how far Davis had progressed from his acoustic cool jazz roots).

How heavy is it? Consider the line-up onstage that evening: three horn players, led by arguably the most influential musician of the 20th century; a three-piece rhythm section, often loud enough to clear your sinuses and tight enough to... (insert metaphor of choice here); and finally three (count 'em!) electric guitarists, including the formidable Pete Cosey, whose ferocity of technique would have likely made even Hendrix sit up and blink.

That's a total of nine players, performing 101-minutes of unscripted, unrehearsed, balls-to-the-walls music, most of it without even a hint of conventional melody or harmony to sustain it. The mayhem they create is truly awesome to hear: the musical equivalent of a marauding stampede of wild jungle beasts. Listen to the demonic energy of "Moja (Part One)" for proof: these guys left no prisoners in their wake.

But it's on "Wili" and "Tatu" when the strutting Funk-Rock beast finally breaks out of its cage (the track titles are merely Swahili translations of the numbers one through four: Davis never cared much for pinning names on his music). Monster rhythms (courtesy of bassist Michael Henderson and drummer Al Foster), reverb-heavy guitars, and yearning horns all collide in a unique (and very loud) form of musical osmosis, with the angry, distorted whine of Davis' trumpet setting the pace, often sounding not unlike yet another over-amped electric guitar.

Raw stuff indeed, from beginning to end. A more refined (but no less intense) variation of the same formula would surface the next year on "Agharta" and "Pangaea", just before Davis disappeared off the public map for half a decade. But it was around the time of this Carnegie Hall gig when the erstwhile jazz innovator turned his back irrevocably on the past, and really flexed his rock 'n' roll muscles.
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