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MILES DAVIS - Agharta cover
4.16 | 26 ratings | 3 reviews
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Live album · 1975

Filed under Fusion


A Prelude (Part 1) 22:14
B Prelude (Part 2) / Maiysha 23:01
C Interlude 26:17
D Theme From Jack Johnson 25:59


- Michael Henderson / Bass [Fender]
- Mtume / Congas, Percussion, Drums [Water], Programmed By [Rhythm Box]
- Al Foster / Drums
- Reggie Lucas / Guitar
- Pete Cosey / Guitar, Synthesizer, Percussion
- Sonny Fortune / Saxophone [Soprano, Alto], Flute
- Miles Davis / Trumpet, Organ

About this release

CBS/Sony ‎– SOPJ 92~93(Japan)

Recorded live at Osaka Festival Hall, Osaka, Japan (afternoon set), February 1, 1975

Thanks to snobb, M.Neumann for the updates


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If I had to pick one favorite album from any genre and any era, this would have to be the one. There is so much about this live album that stands out; the disciplined attentivness of the band as Miles takes them through abstract improvisational sections, the bands ability to rock out on the edge of chaos and then bring things down to a whisper, Pete Cosey's unbelievable incendiary guitar playing and most of all, a mesmerizing and constantly shifting sound texture that changes with the band and adds accents to solos and quiet sections as well. Miles has often pointed out in interviews that the ensemble on this album was his favorite band. Playing rock with jazz musicians (Bitches Brew) served it's purpose for a while, but Miles wanted a band that could really rock, as well as play jazz, avant-garde and world music as well. The icing on the cake for Miles is that he finally found a guitar player who could do what the departed Jimi Hendrix could do, plus so much more. Pete Cosey is probably one of the greatest guitar players to ever play rock/fusion/blues etc and the fact that he remains mostly unknown is nothing short of criminal.

This album finally brings together all the influences that Miles had been trying to bring together for years; Stockhausen's Asiatic suspended musical moments in time (moment form), Sly Stone's dramatic take it to the streets call to action world revolutionary party funk, searing acid rock guitar, Sun Ra's disciplined approach to group improvisation, Herbie Hancock's futuristic fusion and timeless classical music from Africa.

Although this album is full of beautiful quiet moments, there is always a feeling that the band may suddenly explode, if even for a second or two, before they go quiet again. There is so much to like on here, but there is one feature that has always stood out to me. Throughout this album there is some kind of device that allows performers to suddenly shift in volume and reverb saturation at any given moment. The result is a sound texture that is never boring, and it is a device that is totally unique to Miles during this phase of his career.

I would highly recommend this album to people who want to hear psychedelic rock taken to it's very highest level.
Reviewing "Agharta" (and its sister CD, the equally vivid "Pangaea") is like writing about Mount Everest: mere words are not enough to convey the sense of intimidating awe one feels when standing in its shadow. Extending the Himalayan metaphor even further, these two concert recordings together reach the highest peak of achievement in the turbulent, post-jazz career of Miles Davis during the mid-1970s.

The two releases form separate sides of the same coin, recorded at an afternoon/evening gig in Osaka, on February 1, 1975. The earlier set of "Agharta" may not sound as raw as the twin-disc Carnegie Hall concert heard on "Dark Magus" the previous year. But the music here is equally relentless: a shifting landmass of music moving from gut-thumping electronic Funk-Rock fusion to joyful dance grooves to easygoing swing, before finally collapsing into a disquieting abyss of dark, interstellar noise.

Track titles (excepting the single recognizable melody of "Maiysha", from the 1974 album "Get Up With It") are entirely meaningless. Each of the two "Agharta" discs is essentially a long, uninterrupted jam, improvised in true jazz fashion over several brief themes, typically introduced by Miles and then quickly assimilated into the onrushing juggernaut of rhythm. A 30-minute, two-part "Prelude" actually fills most of Disc One, and "Theme From Jack Johnson" introduces only the first few moments of an hour-long, freeform blow on Disc Two.

It's during this latter half of the set when the music gradually evaporates into a black hole of ambient, avant-garde least on the highly recommended Sony Japanese pressing. The final ten minutes or so of drifting Space Rock was inexplicably left off the much-maligned 1991 Columbia CD re-master, excised by timid sound engineers with no taste for true exploratory music.

On this tour Davis assembled maybe the strongest (and certainly the loudest) band of his long, influential career, built atop a solid backbone of rhythm provided by drummer Al Foster and bassist Michael Henderson, with a vital layer of percussive color added by the always inventive Mtume. But the real musical muscle can be heard in the effects-driven controlled chaos of Pete Cosey's guitar playing, which in a more perfect world would merit the same acclaim reserved for the likes of McLaughlin, Fripp, or Hendrix (take your pick).

Miles himself is often silent, or else neglecting his trumpet in favor of a cheap-sounding Yamaha organ. Blame his failing health at the time: he was suffering from crippling osteoarthritis, among other ailments, all of them contributing to his dependence on drugs and forcing him into premature retirement for several years soon after these gigs.

But his presence and guidance throughout the show is unmistakable. And his own uncertain performance, fragile and tentative as it sometimes is (and leaning hard on the crutch of his ubiquitous wah-wah pedal) only adds to the otherworldly effect of the entire concert experience. His trumpet is no longer the authoritative solo voice around which the rest of the band orbits, but a single cog in a well-oiled musical machine, and often indistinguishable from the sound of an over-amped electric guitar.

That's where the true innovation of "Agharta" can be heard: in the realization of a new musical language transcending the conventions of jazz, rock, or any other genre...

...and after first pointing out the futility of trying to describe the penultimate masterpiece by one of the acknowledged forces of 20th century music, I suddenly find myself having just wasted 573 words trying to do exactly that. Point proven.
Sketches of Pain

The word genius is bandied about in reference to musicians like Davis, Lennon, Coltrane, Morrison, Hendrix et al like slurred proposals by those who know the vows of fidelity ain't gonna last past the best man's speech. (The hitherto salacious excesses of the groom being outlined by a professional arbiter of taste - a biographer) Everyone and their dog claims to be under the influence of the aforementioned luminaries until such time as the fashion cops pull them over. However, we certainly can't blame Miles Davis for the fickle and transitory nature of the fan-base and musicians he longed to be acknowledged by (i.e. Rock Music) Support slots opening for the likes of the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Santana merely served to betray a germ of populism as an integral part of this complex and contradictory man. Although frustrated at his overtures being spurned by the ordinary pop lovin' Joe, Miles would have savoured the irony of having swapped jazz snobs for rock snobs, the latter being arguably even more conservative than the former. Enthusiasts for the sort of music he was producing circa 1975 would deem Agharta as dense, seamless and abstract. Me ? Closer to impenetrable, monotonous and incoherent. Others would claim this is Miles 'space music', or as someone like his avowed inspiration Stockhausen would have it, a space for music to exist. (How many holes does it take to fill the Osaka Festival Hall, or is this flat-packed structure one I have to assemble myself ?)

There are instances on the half hour Prelude where I am haunted by a nagging visitation from a bratty Moonchild over an immutable funk beat. Prelude to what ? you could measure these track lengths with a sundial. Everything is textural hereabouts, even what pass for solos are inextricably woven into a sound-scape where there is neither foreground or background with just that incessant and ingratiating pulse to remind us this corpse is still breathing (heavily Man). I guess that some sort of ground-breaking has to be undertaken before either eulogies or being buried alive is considered appropriate. Not even James Brown would milk such modest resources and expect to get away with it. What exactly did Davis contribute to these four titles by way of thematic, harmonic or motivitic sources to warrant a writer's credit ? We appear to be in the realm of a succession of shifting 'moments', that require the listener to surrender their habitual notions of linearity and embrace the fleeting and arbitrary coalescence of unrelated strands of sound. (Jeez, I'm starting to sound like a publicist for the ECM label). I'm too lazy, old or set in my ways most likely for this malarkey - creative listening on this scale must be a young un's game.

The only people who could be forgiven for wishing to name-drop Miles are those countless hired labourers he employed who must have become disenchanted at their being no architect for the house that everyone else built with Davis inscribed on the mailbox. e.g. Tutu is tantamount to a Marcus Miller solo album with Miles as guest soloist. Similarly, Aura composed and arranged entirely by Palle Mikkelborg goes out with the MD moniker carelessly scribbled to the cover art. Little wonder Davis post 70's output is such an unwieldy mess.

By this stage Miles had abandoned conventional harmonic devices entirely but something had been lost in the interim: and those who essay lives in reverse (historians) could have advised him a plot always appears at the end. Without recourse to any hook, gradation or development these rambling acreages merely depict a stricken wreck who could only keep afloat with a ballast of booze and nostril sherbet on board. I cannot discern any leadership or guidance throughout Agharta and such is the tyranny of texture at play Miles contents himself only with a shrugging tootle here and a grudging parp there as though preoccupied with choosing the wallpaper for his derelict house.

To their credit, the hand picked band he assembled for these dates do their damnedest to inject some excitement into these jams despite the absence of any charts, instructions or orders from their AWOL general. Davis was fond of regaling his new charges with this sort of tutelage:

Play what's not there, don't play what you know, play what you don't know

Hip-speak: closer to your backside than your mouth.

If proof of such were needed we only have to consult Pangaea, a concert recorded by the same personnel on the same day which yielded another completely different set of performances. Cosey in particular displays a fiery and vicious energy completely at odds with his laconic taskmaster. The Foster/Henderson/Mtume bass/drum/percussion trio is retained from the excellent On the Corner, and all three are certainly more than able to nail a groove mercilessly as they do here. Sonny Fortune strikes me as more of a conventional jazzer in that his sax and flute solos on the record are the only ones that develop along marginally conventional lines of statement, improvisation, recapitulation etc.

Miles Davis sold himself like a brazen 'strumpet with trumpet' to get into bed with rock and even tried to shoehorn his way onto PIL's Album album, under the flimsy pretext that Johnny's voice sounded like his own horn ? Lydon flatly rejected his contributions. From here it is but a short slap to the horrors of jazz funk followed by a short button press to the digital technology that begat Detroit Techno and call the lineage facile if you like, Rap. The graveyard of progressive music that was the 80's where electronic dance music's endemic cyclic rhythms choked any dissenting voices must surely owe a debt of gratitude to Miles Dewey Davis.

If you are captivated by free jazz, Can circa Tago Mago, early Tangerine Dream, spacey Sun Ra, Matching Mole or Zappa's more atonal extravaganzas, you may well be in hog heaven with this album but failing that, these air miles won't even refund your fare.

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