Debates will forever rage regarding the dawn of jazz-rock fusion – its birth attributed to everyone from vibraphonist Gary Burton (and/or his guitarist, Larry Coryell) to Cream. There were definitely examples prior to Miles Davis embracing the hybrid, but when the jazz icon “went electric,” it shook up jazz much as Dylan had turned folk music on its head when he plugged in a few years prior.
Though electric instruments appeared on previous albums, 1969’s In A Silent Way marked the trumpeter’s first fusion album (and it – better still, The Complete In A Silent Way Sessions box – is highly recommended, for giving Brew context and just because it’s so sublime). One of Silent’s electricians was guitarist John McLaughlin.
Brew was recorded just six months later, by which time Miles was openly absorbing rock and soul influences like James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, and Sly & The Family Stone. This was less linear, more African than the bebop and cool/ modal-oriented Miles of yore or even the ambient Silent. In hindsight, it’s arguably the blueprint for groove-based jazz and, for better or worse, jam bands – distinguished by the fact that this was a jam band of virtuosos.
The meandering pieces, mostly ranging from 11 to 27 minutes, contain moments of brilliant spontaneity, as multiple keyboardists and percussionists and the tandem basses of Dave Holland (upright) and Harvey Brooks (electric) anchor while jarring jagged bursts from hornmen Davis, Wayne Shorter, and Bennie Maupin, as well as McLaughlin.
Two editions are available – “Legacy” has the original 94-minute album, out takes, and truncated singles on two CDs and a DVD of Davis’ 11/69 Copenhagen concert (sans McLaughlin). The “Collector’s” edition has all that, a CD of Davis’ 8/70 Tanglewood concert in Massachusetts (again, without McLaughlin), a vinyl double-LP of the original album, and other memorabilia.
This article originally appeared in VG’s Oct. ’10 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.