What a concept! Produce everything a band did over multiple live sessions, music that was later compressed into a “twofer” LP. It’s not exactly new: Sony’s been doing it for the past decade in its ongoing Miles Davis Collection. But it’s still an effective way to market music to the jazz addict. The Cellar Door Sessions 1970 comprised the raw material for the revolutionary fusion album Live Evil. A marvel of dense energy, contemplative improvisations, and absolutely stunning drum work by Jack DeJonette, this six-disc set of mostly previously unreleased material is a must have for Davis—no, any jazz–fan.
Hear five different renditions of the frenetic What I Say, four of the progressively wilder Inamorata, five of the probing adventurous Directions. Of course versions vary greatly in length and content. In What I Say, the longest version contains 40% more music than the shortest version. Is it better? You decide. Miles is pretty generous with time here, giving long segments to electric pianist Jarrett, saxophonist Gary Bartz and, on the last two discs to guitarist John McLaughlin (who was on the earlier Bitches Brew session). Miles’ wah wah riffs and yowlingly sustained high notes still floor me today, thirty-four years after first I heard Live Evil. Nineteen-year old Michael Henderson is a wry magician on electric bass, particularly with his subversive (and justly famous) ostinato on What I Say.
Of course, don’t expect studio quality. There’s some dross here among the gold nuggets. Disc 1 has a noticeable amplifier buzz with the bass and on disc 3 it migrates to Jarrett’s piano. Don’t tell me this distortion was intentional, because the liner notes explain that in one set the amps were so off, so they couldn’t use the recording. So don’t listen to these with your earbuds (as I am doing now), because they’ll pick up every nasty little artifact. However, complaining about occasional sonic fuzz is like noting that a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph is slightly out of focus (and some were). It doesn’t much matter when the content is so energetic and creative.