Miles’ touted “Fillmore Band” didn’t sound much like a band to me. In an area of music where individual virtuosity is the rule rather than the exception, give-and-take between players becomes all important. And only occasionally did the Fillmore crew get down to taking care of business as a unit. There was lots of individual brilliance of course, just like there is lots of individual brilliance on Live-Evil. But this is no collection of isolated geniuses; it’s a band, and it’s going to take the top of your head clean off.
The band that performs “Sivad,” “What I Say.” “Funky Tonk,” and “Innamorata.” which are the extended, “blowing” tracks on the album, is Keith Jarrett, keyboards (he has never sounded better); John McLaughlin, guitar (taking more chances than usual); Gary Bartz, saxophone (occasionally stiff, usually exciting and committed, finally the right reed player for Miles’ new conception); Jack DeJohnette, drums (absolutely uncanny, and irreplaceable); and Airto, percussion (his rapport with Miles is telepathic by this time). I’ve saved the new bassist, Michael Henderson, for last, because he’s the only really new member, and because his concept is so different from that of his predecessor. Dave Holland. Henderson plays Fender, and he doesn’t play very many notes at all. His solidity, and his simplicity, have reduced the “busy” textures of the ensemble to a point where everything sounds clear, clean, and direct. Everybody is just playing away, there aren’t any weak links, and there isn’t any congestion to speak of. Miles reacts to this happy situation by playing his ass off, too. Inspiration is catching, especially when everybody listens. For all you technology buffs, Miles has the wah-wah pedal mastered, but he steps up to the open mike very once in a while to remind you that he doesn’t need it; he just digs it.
“Little Church,” “Nem Um Talvez,” and “Selim” are what used to be called “ballads.” They feature larger groups but there aren’t any solos. Just stunning, bittersweet lines, often voiced by Miles, vocalist Hermeto Pascoal, and either Steve Grossman or Wayne Shorter on saxophone, in unison. Each of these tracks is under four minutes, and they are all things of great beauty.
This sounds like what Miles had in mind when he first got into electric music and freer structures and rock rhythms. He’s been refining it in public, but they used to accuse Coltrane of practicing his scales in public. So What. In both cases, practice made perfect.