I bought this record shortly after it came out in 1980, and loved it from the first note. It seemed to come from another world altogether.
I couldn’t really fully understand where it was coming from, but it obviously had some kind of connection to both Miles Davis and Indian music.
Later on I learned about the connection with La Monte Young and it all made more sense.
There was another strange thing- one of the tracks (Griot ‘”Over Contagious Magic”) actually had a loop from “Miles Davis in Concert” playing in the background. How could that be? This was the first time I became aware of sampling…
This is still my favourite Jon Hassell album. His raga derived trumpet lines are unique and incredibly flexible. He uses a harmoniser throughout, and the parallel tonalities it produces give his lines an ethereal quality as they leave the tonality behind. I was lucky to see him play some of this material at the first Womad festival in 1982.
Jon Hassell’s journey into the spaces in-between the conventional notes of the trumpet in pursuit of raga created one of the all-time most recognisable signature sounds in music. It’s impossible to explore similar territory or use a harmoniser with a trumpet without sounding derivative of him.
But this record gets a lot of bad press, particularly when compared to the ‘Complete Live at Fillmore’ CD box set. Obviously there is a lot to be said for getting to hear the whole thing. This goes for ANY Miles Davis concert, and for anyone who hasn’t yet found it,
For me, Teo Macero got it right first time, although there is an argument to be made over some later recordings such as ‘Miles Davis in Concert’ or ‘Aghartha’. But on the classic 60s Quintet recordings through to ‘Bitches Brew’ and ‘Get Up With It’ he got the balance between clarity and warmth about right in my opinion
The whole CBS box set reissue series has tended towards a drier, more detailed sound. Of course it’s all a matter of taste, but I for one prefer Teo’s approach.
And then, there is the editing:
I always felt that the editing on this record (and others by Miled Davis) was an important part of the creative whole. Some hear it as a mess, but I see it as opening up multiple perspectives on the music.
There is a very interesting interview with Teo Macero in which he talks about his friendship with the French composer Edgard Varese-
“I was there when he was doing his ‘Poeme Electronique’ in Paris. He would show me all the pieces, all of the elements. But he was creating sounds from other sources other than electronica sounds. He was making his own, which to me is very creative. Much more so than just putting it through a filter. He created all kinds of things for that “Poeme Electronique” and I was fascinated by it.”
So Teo was there when one of the landmark pieces of electronic musique concrete was created. No wonder he was interested in using editing as a creative tool.
For ‘Miles Davis at Fillmore’ he could have just put together a standard live album, choosing the ‘best’ versions of the various pieces and presenting a ‘complete’ sounding concert. The LP format didn’t really allow for the whole four nights to be put out as Miles was reported to want. Instead Teo chose to use creative editing to make something unique- a kaleidescopic cubist multiperspective view of four nights of extroadinary music making.
I still listen to it as a thing of wonder- editing and all.