Miles in Multichannel: Miles Davis’ Live Evil
Review of the inimitable jazz musician and his classic work, Live Evil, now available in hybrid SACD.
By Ben Jacklin
Miles Davis, the enigma, available in multi-channel audio. It’s a dream for a lot of music lovers; Live Evil was a fascinating project all the way back in the 1970s. Newly remastered and released on SACD earlier this year, this is an album that sometimes gets forgotten in the shadow of the incredible Bitches’ Brew, but has now had new life breathed into it.
If you are looking for uncontaminated audio fidelity then this album isn’t for you, even in its new immersive guise. The album has been described as “a Frankenstein’s monster of edits between Bitches’ Brew and Silent Way out-takes, along with some live concert shows.”
Much of the audio from the early part of the album comes from performances at The Cellar Door, Washington, DC, whereas other parts of the recordings come from Columbia Studio B in New York. Over 10 musicians and engineers were involved, and, truth be told, Davis is the only real constant: his signature playing falling at times into the crazy and abstract, before indulging us with another snarling hook.
“Sivad” opens the album, with attitude and disregard for convention, which is further fueled by the surround mix which sees stabs of the trumpet approach from all angles. The drumming could just as easily belong on a funk album, and at times you feel like you are on-stage, with interludes from an ensemble cast of musicians jabbing at the audio canvas. “Sivad” builds and dies, with brave dynamics and an audio evolution packed into one, 20-minute journey.
The album is constantly speeding up and slowing, with gorgeous interludes, little more than soundscapes with a filmic vibe. “Little Church” and the wistful “Nem um Talvez” provide us with a breather before the album launches into another “Grand Central Station” style mix, with audio encompassing from all angles.
Another highlight is “Funky Tonk,” in which Miles takes center stage, proverbially speaking, and delivers the lost-in-the-music solos we have come to expect. Improvisation and attitude may be the first two things you think of when someone mentions Davis, and “Funky Tonk” delivers both, with a fair share of recklessness and percussive experimentation thrown in for good measure.
The finale, “Inamorata” – with narration by Conrad Roberts – allows the band to fade away, almost literally, as the sound becomes distant, verging on LoFi, following Roberts’ monologue. The sound palate by the end has the feeling of Davis returning to the mothership. Something of a jazz Bowie, with his otherworldly musical ensemble tracking his ascension.
The album is not clean cut. It feels like a bit of low-end might be missing at times. The recordings leave something to be desired every now and then, and the buzz of a guitar amp can be heard in quiet refrains. All of this is somehow refreshing among the current climate of super high-fidelity, clinical recordings. It adds a charming sense of reality to an album that flirts with the unreal. It creates the feeling of being transported into the jazz clubs and studios of the ‘70s to hear the whole shooting match, fret buzz included.
About the Author
Ben is a writer and musician from the UK with a background in music technology. He writes about engineering and production, musicianship and music equipment for a number of publications including his own site, subreel.com