The Lost Septet
Sleepy Night Records
This is the middle part of a trilogy of “Lost” Miles Davis records. The Lost Septet refers to this particular band – a seven-piece that never went into the studio. This show was once broadcast on radio and that’s it – though members from this line-up were on the Live Evil record from around this time and of course the studio albums of the late 60s and early 70s, the freeform funk period, featured some of these players (in different combinations) and musicians of their ilk.
Fifty years on from the European tour where this show was a feature of nightly workouts devolving and reappraising the material from the recent and upcoming records – spinning new sounds to open ears – the music is hypnotic and fresh and boasts Miles in full Hendrix-aping wah-wah trumpet-transmogrifying glory. The seven-piece line-up – the very instrumentation – a nod to Hendrix’s Woodstock ensemble; a drummer and two percussionists. Though where Hendrix was all about the guitars, Miles keeps it horn-focused, his own treated trumpet sit in and around the violent and glorious sax workouts from Gary Bartz. Bartz, like Dave Liebman, is one of the lesser heralded Miles sidemen. Hard to fit them all in the rolodex of your mind when you start thinking of names like Coltrane and Wayne Shorter and Cannonball Adderley…
But here you hear Bartz so absolutely on fire. Keith Jarrett plays the electric piano – an instrument he never enjoyed. But he has his way with it on a few occasions here, perhaps most impressively the Santana-esque middle-section of What I Say; certainly one of the high points of the album – the bed of percussion from Mtume, Don Alias and kit-player Ndugu Chancler making it so easy for the ‘lead’ instruments to spread out and take their turn. It’s a tight funk workout to begin with before dropping down to some skittering drums for Miles to dance across and then rebuilding into a full funky mess.
Nightly this band (Michael Henderson is on bass – also slightly forgotten in the scheme but the muscle behind so much from this era, including Live Evil and Tribute to Jack Johnson) would just reinvent the material, taking something like Sanctuary from Bitches Brew and just calming it the fuck right down, or elevating Live Evil’s Honky Tonk (also on the compilation Get Up With It which collects odds and sods from the period) into a whole new flower-burst.
Basically The Lost Septet is a shrinking down of players but a broadening of ideas that happened in the middle of the bookending albums that most often puzzle and delight Davis fans (Bitches and On The Corner).
There’s freedom and so much room to move but also when this band was super-cooking, as on the mid-set highlight here, a version of It’s About That Time, you really drink in the idea of this ensemble moving as one complete musical muscle. Miles was a tone-setter, for behaviour, style and musical outcomes and his “Wah” period sometimes infuriates even the more dedicated of fans but this concert recording shows how he used his augmented horn like a conductor’s baton. And the fire and fierceness here is something to behold. Also this never feels wayward. This group explores, but more in a pontificating way – the spaces feel defined, there’s demarcation and maybe in the end it’s really Gary Bartz’ show. Though only because Miles told him so.
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