MILES DAVIS — Pangaea (review)

MILES DAVIS — Pangaea album cover Live album · 1975 · Fusion Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
M.Neumann
The era of electronic Miles Davis, from its humble late '60s origins (see: "In a Silent Way") through the Fusion breakthrough of his seminal 1970 Jazz-Rock masterpiece "Bitches Brew", and continuing into the apocalyptic street funk of "On The Corner", reached critical mass on stage in Japan in early 1975. This two-disc live set captures the evening performance of a twilight doubleheader, like its companion piece (the impossible to overrate "Agharta") recorded in Osaka on February 1 of that year.

Together both albums (both of them twin-discs) mark the apotheosis of an astonishing career that saw the erstwhile jazz trumpet player at the forefront of just about every new musical movement of the previous three decades.

"Pangaea" follows a trajectory similar to the afternoon gig, but with fascinating detours and altogether fresh results. Each of the two discs presents a single, unified improvisation, played with even more confidence and kinetic energy than on "Agharta" (Davis in particular sounds a lot stronger: maybe the pain medication finally kicked in). The music is sometimes less ferocious than it was during the afternoon set, but in the end presents an even richer experience: especially on Disc Two, when Miles truly Takes the Voodoo Down.

The evening show opens with "Zimbabwe": a no-hold barred, 42-minute Funk-Rock frontal assault more powerful in parts than even the malignant juggernaut of "Dark Magus", recorded in Carnegie Hall the previous year. After that the tone and tempo gradually shift downward into a more open and free-form (but no less rhythmic) jam on the nearly 47-minutes of Disc Two.

"Gondwana" (named for the prehistoric super-continent that would separate into Africa and South America) opens with a haunting tropical bass line and evocative solo flute (by Sonny Fortune). It's a welcome respite after all the heat and friction of "Zimbabwe" on Disc One, and eventually cools even further before resolving itself in an unexpected, swinging jam, recalling the pre-electronic roots of Davis' jazz past.

And there it ends, in a quietly devastating final curtain to both an epic day of music-making and a vanguard musical career. Davis would retreat into semi-retired seclusion soon after these gigs, and it's hard not to think that the sheer strain of creating such intense and beautiful noise finally pushed him off the public stage. Certainly his comeback in the 1980s introduced a more tame and tired Miles Davis than the ferocious beast heard prowling outside its cage on these recordings.

But this was Miles at his peak. And when standing on the summit of any mountain there's no other way to go except down.

Consumer postscript: word-of-mouth says the 1991 Columbia re-masters of "Agharta" and "Pangaea" are botched, inferior mixes of the original LPs. Save your pennies, as I did, for the more expensive but vastly superior Sony Japanese pressings. Both not only include more music (a couple of extra minutes on "Pangaea"; a whopping 10-minutes more on "Agharta"), but sound fabulous as well.
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