Miles Davis Week – Day 2: The Lost Quintet


One of the compelling mysteries about Miles Davis’s music in the late 1960s is how got from here to there, from the formally free, but still idiomatic music of Nefertiti, Miles in the Sky, and Filles de Kilimanjaro, to In a Silent Way, then Bitches Brew. Miles in the Sky and Filles de Kilimanjaro are transitional in that they add soul, funk and rock elements to what Miles was doing, and Filles starts exploring extended duration, but the music is within reach of what others like Lee Morgan and Herbie Hancock had been doing contemporaneously.

The key is there on Filles, although the record doesn’t really sound like it—two of the five tracks, “Frelon Brun” and “Mademoiselle Mabry,” were laid down by what was Miles’ new group at the time, the “Lost” quintet with Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea at the electric piano, bassist Dave Holland, and drummer Jack DeJohnette.

They were lost because, other than those two tracks, there was nothing else of their’s on record. The group toured extensively and they were known for the intensity, heaviness and abstraction of their live shows, the music flowing in what was by then Miles’ method of one long medley per set, and Miles gave the younger guys plenty of room to stretch out—there was substantial free playing.

The Lost Quintet, the band Miles called a “bad motherfucker,” is at the core of In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew. Without the context of hearing what they were up to, the former sounds like a shocking departure, the latter like a radical disassembling of the same. But with exposure to the Quintet’s playing, the gleeful tension between the edges of jazz and rock, how the two meet not as a fusion but a point of departure for a whole new idea of improvised, instrumental music, it becomes clear that In a Silent Way a consolidation, and Bitches Brew is the real breakthrough.

Despite the cut and splice studio technique, In a Silent Way is formally controlled, the opposite of what the Lost Quintet was doing. The sectional nature of the album marks periods of time, while the way Miles was playing live, and the nature of the music on Bitches Brew, ignores marking time completely. The music has to start and stop at some point, but with the Lost Quintet, there was the feeling that a window opened to an ongoing flow of music, and once the gig was over, that window shut. The music was still going on, somewhere.

Fortunately, there is now a substantial recorded legacy of the Lost Quintet. A live album from an ORTF Radio broadcast from Antibes, France, 25 July, 1969, was issued in 1993. That has since been supplemented by Volume 2 in Sony’s ongoing Bootleg Series: Live in Europe 1969 has the Antibes set, plus another one recorded the next day at the same festival, and a CD and DVD from 5 November in Stockholm and 7 November in Berlin, respectively. These last two come after the Bitches Brew sessions but before the LP was issued, and the group now plays “Bitches Brew” as part of their sets.

There is also an amazing, complete set in audio and video from Salle Pleyel, Paris, 3 November, 1969. This is apparently the opening of two sets that night. This is an exceptional document. It captures Miles using “I Fall in Love Too Easily” to transition into “Sanctuary,” something he hints at on Bitches Brew, then reaches a climax with a take on “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down.” During that, at sometime during the first minute of Wayne Shorter’s solo, which starts about at about 48’, Corea switches to his own drum set and DeJohnette takes over the electric piano. This is something they were known to do live, we’re fortunate there’s a record:


There is also the single disc Bitches Brew Live, issued in 2011, an excellent and, once again, highly transitional collection. There are two different live dates on here, three from the Newport Jazz Festival, 5 July, 1969, and six from the Isle of Wight Festival, 29 August, 1970. A little more than a month before the Bitches Brew sessions, Miles was playing “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” and “Sanctuary” (Shorter is not on these tracks because he was stuck in traffic and couldn’t make it to the gig). A year after the album was made, the quintet is now a septet: Gary Bartz replaces Shorter, Keith Jarrett is playing organ, and percussionist Airto Moreira is also in the band. The album title says Bitches Brew, but this band is more linear, more soulful, already edging towards the unprecedented combination of deep funk and dark abstraction that Miles would explore over the next five years. Here’s the Isle of Wight, and despite the caption, the opening tune is “Directions”:


Considering how much the Lost Quintet was on the road, it seems to me quite possible that more live recordings will turn up. I have no word on any upcoming releases, though. In the meantime, I’m eager to read Bob Gluck’s new book on the band, The Miles Davis ‘Lost’ Quintet and other Revolutionary Ensembles, expected out early next year from the University of Chicago Press. It will fill an enormous hole in Miles’ history.

– George Grella

Listen to George Grella’s Bitches Brew Spotify playlist here!

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