Great Album Series

Miles Davis- Live in Tokyo

Miles Davis
Live in Tokyo
Columbia/Legacy (1969/2005)

Back in my college days, I had a soft spot for almost anything Miles Davis. Bitches Brew, In a Silent Way, On The Corner, and Tribute to Jack Johnson in particular. All brilliant albums, that you should rush out and get. One day in class, our teacher put on a record called Miles In Tokyo, it was a hard record to find, and it didn't get a CD release until 2005.

I love this album for one reason in particular. Sam Rivers. This is the only recording that Sam Rivers did with this great quartet (featuring legends, Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams and Ron Carter). And in context it's really something special. This album shows a serious transition in the work of Miles Davis.

The tenor player in Davis' band before this album was George Coleman. Coleman has a beautiful tone, and brilliant grasp on the technical side of jazz. His style is rooted in tradition, and maybe a little too traditional for the direction Davis was heading. So for 6 dates in Japan, Davis need a new tenor player. Wayne Shorter, the man who eventually filled the tenor chair in the band for 6 albums was still touring with Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers. Drummer Tony Williams recommended free jazz player Sam Rivers.

Lets do a quick audio comparison. Here is "Joshua" from 1963's Seven Steps to Heaven featuring George Coleman (solo at the 3 minute mark)


And here is opening track for Live in Tokyo, "If I Were a Bell" one year later. (Rivers solo is at the 3 minute mark)

If I Were A Bell

64's band is pushed by Rivers tenor playing. Davis said "Rivers carried a new sound into the band of which my quintet did not have. He made rhythmic figures and harmonies of the group freer than before", and added "...with his creative technique, he changed the sound of the group".

After the opening standards of If "I Were a Bell", and "My Funny Valentine", the band really begins to follow suit with a sped up version of the Davis classic "So What". Miles solo is particularly jarring, featuring short flurries of notes punctuated with sharp stuccatos. Rivers responds with the best solo on the album, egging Herbie Hancock and Tony Williams to follow him through the range of his horn, building to an epic peak.

So What

Williams in particular shines every time Rivers takes the lead. Acutally on closer inspection, Williams takes almost a different approach depending on who is soloing. Check out how he really digs in during Davis' solo on "Walkin'". It leads immediately into a solo for himself, that builds, falls apart, and re-builds again. River's solo here, really explores the subtleties of the horn, muting and bending the notes into something completely out of the ordinary. He seems less interested with combining the notes to outline the chords, and more interested in using his technique to outline the individual notes. (Does that make any sense?) Hancock follows with a subtler solo, bringing the band back into the head.


One year later would find Davis with Wayne Shorter on sax, making up one of the finest quintet's of his brilliant career. 6 albums later he'd move on to my favorite period, mixing funk, rock, jazz and world music. But Miles in Tokyo is an oddity, a brief glimpse into what spawned a freer feel that would become very important in his later periods. Which is why it's here in the Great Albums Series.

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