Revisiting a Classic: Miles Davis' Bitches Brew

Image Courtesy of Columbia Records

Image Courtesy of Columbia Records

By Jordan Pytosh

The saga of jazz trumpeter Miles Davis is an inexplicably dynamic and innovative sequence of genre-bending albums. However, none match the inventive eccentricity and ambiance of Bitches Brew, an album in which every creative aspect of Davis’ work coalesces into a tonal masterpiece. In a sense, this 1970 classic still makes it apparently clear that Miles Davis was eons ahead of the jazz fusion cohorts he would eventually inspire. The album took its inspiration from a looser interpretation of what the jazz format could be at the time, when the advent of Woodstock and Davis' newfound love for electric instrumentation sparked his new improvisational style.

Bitches Brew features one of the greatest personnels of any jazz album in history, with big names like Bennie Maupin, Chick Corea, John McLaughlin and Billy Cobham contributing their talents across the album. “Pharoah’s Dance” is a concoction of Sun Ra, Weather Report and Max Roach, all fused into a vibrant 20-minute amalgam of drum patterns and cosmic synths. The title track, “Bitches Brew,” is a soft, brooding mix of sounds that maintains a high level of energy over its 27 minutes, while continuously shifting its tone. “Spanish Key” is similar to "Bitches Brew" in style, but includes more ethereal trumpet patterns and electric piano stabs. “John McLaughlin” is built around wailing guitar and heavy organ grooves, and is named after the guitarist who graces the track with the wonderful chords of his instrument. “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” is pure funk at its finest, with a forward moving bass sequence and low-key drum patterns each giving the track a sense of organic motion. “Sanctuary” is probably the most conventional song on the album, built upon a softer jazz tone of horn and synths building off each other for 10 minutes. “Feio”, a bonus track composed by Wayne Shorter, uses the horn and guitar to create ethereal tones that are like aural aphrodisiacs, in between the stabs and hits of the other instruments.

Though I think this album is certainly a cocktail of fantastic elements, Bitches Brew can be a mixed bag for a new listener; it takes time to really get into the type of jazz Davis developed here. However, over time, multiple listens have revealed to me the countless treasures that this album offers, and why its place is solidified in music history. 

MusicSteven Norwalk