Miles Davis

In 2005 jazz's vault diggers unearthed several gems, including rediscovered live recordings by the Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane, Coltrane's classic quartet, and Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. While those recordings may be more celebrated by the insular jazz critic establishment, there's little doubt that Miles Davis's The Cellar Door Sessions 1970 is easily the most influential of the lot. The six-disc Cellar Door — portions of which were released in edited-down, truncated fashion on 1970's Live-Evil — comes off as either the apocalyptic Death of Jazz as We (Then) Knew It or the counterculture-era Big Bang of modern music. Even those familiar with Miles's innovative electric studio explorations on In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew were probably unprepared for what happened when he brought musicians from those recordings — keyboardist Keith Jarrett, drummer Jack DeJohnette, Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira, guitarist John McLaughlin, saxophonist Gary Bartz, and Motown bassist Michael Henderson — to the small D.C. nightclub.

It's damn the melody, full riff-digging ahead on loose-limbed tunes that often sound as if they're being constructed from the bottom up, only to be deconstructed and shredded apart on the spot. "What I Say," heard in five incarnations, is driven by Henderson's sticky stair-stepping funk riff and DeJohnette's spacious backbeat. Jarrett's Rhodes fights fiercely and nastily with that groove in the version on Disc 4, which also features sprawling displays by an open-horn Miles, and Bartz on soprano. Miles, throughout, spouts an aural splatter of sounds, using his wah-wah to fuel nasty shrieks and barks, and sometimes, as on the same disc's "Sanctuary" (by Wayne Shorter), simply feeding gorgeous long tones into electronic delays.

These recordings mark an explosion of sound and artistic energy that led to some of jazz fusion's highest peaks and worst excesses, as well as the sometimes-inspired, sometimes-imitative work of jazz-informed jam bands, from Phish to Medeski Martin and Wood to the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey.

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Philip Booth