This was the album which convinced the purists that Miles had pretty much given up...
Peter Marsh 2002
More cashflow issues for die hard Miles fans as Columbia dig into the archives once more. Repeating the format of the Bitches Brew Box Set released a couple of years ago, the 3 CDs here place the classic In A Silent Way in a historical context by collecting previously released and unreleased material from a 6 month period of activity. Thus we have two tracks from Filles de Kilimanjaro and half of the neglected Water Babies plus other worthy sundries, all leading up to the epochal IASW. This was the album which convinced the purists that Miles had pretty much given up jazz, though of course this was nothing compared with what was to come in the jagged landscapes of Bitches Brew or the wah wah soaked juggernaut funk of the mid 70s.
While the inclusion of the unedited versions of the IASW material will tickle the fancy of historians and obsessives, much of it doesn't make for gripping listening. What it does do is point to producer Teo Macero's pivotal role in creating convincing structure out of these floating, sometimes tentative improvisations by a pretty extraordinary bunch of players, looping whole passages and creating dynamic shifts in contrast and mood. (The musicians involved were often bemused by the working methods involved, often not sure whether or when they were recording or rehearsing). Macero's finished version (here recreated and remixed) used only 33 minutes of material over a 40 minute album, employing fragments from rehearsals and even bits of tuning up. The inclusion of an early rehearsal of IASW itself is instructive with Joe Zawinul's original airily beautiful chord structure still intact, before being pared down to a simple drone in the final version in one of Miles's usual strokes of casual genius. The previously unreleased sprawl of the 26 minute "Ghetto Walk" hints at the tougher pastures of Bitches Brew and contains some fine Wayne Shorter soprano, though at 26 minutes it's a bit of a long haul; Joe Chamber's drumming doesn't quite achieve the kind of (James) Brownian motion Miles was striving for either and the track eventually drives itself into the ground. "Early Minor" is a lost gem, however; one of Zawinul's trademark tone poems (originally covered by Nat Adderley); Miles etches fragments of melody out of Herbie Hancock and Zawinul's bubbling, limpid chords. Beautiful, and the lavish packaging (stuffed with interviews and recording details) make this indispensable for the committed Miles fan.