On late '60s albums like Bitches Brew and In a Silent Way, Miles Davis moved away from his trademark “cool jazz” sound, combining funk and rock rhythms with extended improvisation and eschewing acoustic instruments for a large electric band. To jazz purists this “fusion” was heresy; to rock fans it was either unlistenable or mind-blowingly wild. While Davis' experiments sparked tons of initial interest, the craze soon fizzled. That few jazz musicians since then have fully explored this territory is a testament to just how far ahead of his time Davis was.
Following the recent wave of Davis-related recordings, re-releases, and remixes, S.F.'s own Bitches Brew has taken to exploiting the live energy of his music with a series of heart-stopping shows. Led by trumpeter Jab (Shitty Shitty Band Band), saxophonist Mitch Marcus (Blue and Tan Orchestra), and guitarists Ezra Gale (Salvation Air Force) and Ken Kearney (Assassins of Gods), the large ensemble takes a simple approach to the music.
In concert, Bitches Brew covers the funky, prancing rhythms established by Davis, driving hard on standards like “Ife” and “Agharta” while adding its own Davis-inspired originals. The band seems to understand that fusion is all about the groove, i.e., freeing your ass so your mind will follow. A heavy rhythm section labors hard so that the guitar and horn players can improvise — often delivering layers of funk to an already par-tay atmosphere. The combo isn't as inventive or virtuosic as the Henry Kaiser/Wadada Leo Smith–led bands that packed the Fillmore over the past year, but then again, that's almost as tall an order as evoking Davis himself.