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52 years later and Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew (BB) is still melting listener’s minds with its amorphous rock-inspired improvisations coupled with an antithetical aesthetic precision that makes it none other than the legendary musician’s most sublime work.  

The German philosopher Friedrich Schelling defined the experience of the sublime as the simultaneous experience of the weakness of our rationality with the power of our apprehension. It makes sense, when you appreciate a waterfall, say, there’s usually an awe-struck feeling combined with a touch of fear with this massive dynamic entity that is hard to make sense of. BB is sort of like that. Coming in at a whopping hour and 46 minutes spread across seven songs — or more accurately movements — the record saw Davis further exploring his recent fusion pivot as the 60s were coming to a close and the electric guitar began its meteoric rise. The nearly two hours of sporadic improvisations on the record ebb and flow like a storm, the music resembling the notorious album artwork. 

There’s a reason Miles Davis’ most well known album, Kind of Blue, still has enough popular currency to be played in cafes today, probably having been posterized somewhere in your middle school music classroom as well. With the subdued slickness of cuts like “So What” and “Blue in Green,” it’s not surprising at all that this record is usually the first thing that comes to mind when bringing up Miles Davis. Released over a decade after Blue, BB was the record that marked the legendary jazz artist’s electric era.

“Pharaoh’s Dance” starts with a light tempo from Jack DeJohnette’s drums followed by Chick Corea’s electric piano keys enter in from the back of the mix as a Trojan horse for the rest of the band and then just like that the tide takes way. Notable members include legendary guitar player John McLaughlin, jazz eccentric/rhythm section mastermind Herbie Hancock, and trumpeter Tony Williams. The recording process saw David presenting the band with “musical sketches,” being careful not to plan too much. None of the pieces of the record were arranged or planned out entirely. Davis would have the band follow his lead, playing off and against his trumpet as well as each other and the result is electrifying. 

David can be heard shouting some instructions on certain tracks, throwing out cues to keep things tight or to beckon at a band member for a solo. Speaking of which, the movement called “John McLaughlin” is the closest thing to a conventional song on the record being around five minutes in length and centering in on McLaughlin’s electric guitar skills. 

Other than that, the record is a long winded, chaotic, explosive, even aggressive listen. After 52 years it stands as a cultural relic of the changing times of the early 1970s where rock and roll was starting to turn hard as the political landscape did too a la Nixon, the Vietnam war and economic struggle. Bitches Brew, then, comes quite close to sounding like a final umph of the sexual and racial liberatory movements of the 60s as they were absorbed and in many ways curtailed into an approaching conservative period.