Kind of Brew
The centerpiece of Lerner’s film is Davis’s performance at the Isle of Wight rock concert in 1970, where his band loosely tied together notes and themes from the album Bitches Brew, though at one point I recognized parts of Sorcerer in the mix as well. It’s the kind of thing that irks the masses—off the cuff improvisation, concocted in a transcendental state shared between the musicians. Davis was in the process of one of his many crossovers, after spending the best part of the 60’s recording with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams and Ron Carter. That work was a bridge from his brief interval with Gil Evans, to the ethereal “fusion” material that got him booked in places like the Fillmore.
Critic Stanley Crouch tells Lerner that Davis did it for the money, and while that undoubtedly played a very large part in his decisions, the Bitches Brew era (which also includes the excellent Big Fun) may have been the only logical step for jazz. People like Davis and Coltrane had extended the style and milked it for every last nuance, and there was nowhere left to go.
Miles Electric—A Different Kind of Blue is less concerned with critics and editorializing than with the formation of art through music. Grouchy Crouch is on his own, while other Davis bandmates and friends reflect back on his methods and explain his techniques. (“There’s supposed to be a ‘back beat you can’t lose it,’” Joni Mitchell says, “but he lost it!”) Thirty years after the fact, it’s still a vibrant sound emanating from a fire within the soul.