Introduction by Michael Cuscuna
During the brief time frame of this boxed set (February 18 to June 4, 1970, a mere 16 weeks), Miles Davis's working group was soprano saxophonist Steve Grossman (Wayne Shorter actually left on March 7), pianist Chick Corea, bassist Dave Holland, drummer Jack DeJohnette and percussionist Airto Moreira. The band was fully electric by this time and the grooves introduced in the Bitches Brew period became the driving force in the music.
What his band did not have, except for a few February gigs, was a guitar. Yet on all but one of the eleven sessions during this period, John McLaughlin's guitar figures prominently in the music, both in group sound and amount of solo space. Most of the music released at the time -- "Right Off', "Willie Nelson" and "Yesternow" from Jack Johnson and
"Go Ahead John" on Big Fun -- was especially guitar dominated.
The dense textures introduced and developed the prior fall on the Bitches Brew recording sessions gave way to a lean, stripped-down, guitar-heavy sound. There was now only one drummer, and that kept the groove more defined and pronounced. The three-keyboard configuration appears only on the last session; the rest have none, one or two and they are used sparingly.
Although the music that became the soundtrack to Jack Johnson is the best-known work herein, the set is rich with a variety of instrumentation and compositional approaches. In addition to McLaughlin and the working band, old friends like Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Ron Carter and recent recording sidemen like Bennie Maupin and Billy Cobham reappear. New faces to the Miles Davis recording process are Sonny Sharrock, Hermeto Pascoal, Keith Jarrett and Michael Henderson.
Miles's working band (captured live in April on Black Beauty) would undergo several important changes immediately after these sessions. In June, Jarrett joined the group as second keyboardist; that edition of the band is heard on Live At The Fillmore. A month later, alto saxophonist Gary Bartz replaced Grossman (this band was recorded at the Isle Of Wight festival). In September, Chick Corea and Dave Holland departed, leaving Jarrett as the only keyboardist. The new bassist was Michael Henderson. The only official recording of this edition of the band was done in December at the Cellar Door in Washington, D.C. with John McLaughlin brought in as guest artist; some of this music was issued on Live-Evil and more is forthcoming.
After the final session on this set, Miles did not enter a recording studio for almost two years. And when he did, the direction of the music and the musicians in his working band (except for Michael Henderson) were completely different.
- Michael Cuscuna