From the good folks at Legacy Recordings come a pair of previously-unreleased audio documents made at the end of the 1960s, evidence of a fleeting moment where the lines of black music were being redrawn. Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis never recorded or performed together, but both were working in overdrive at the same moment, searching relentlessly for a new path forward, chopping down mountains with the edge of their hands.
People, Hell And Angels is the latest in a series of posthumous releases that culls from the mountain of studio recordings made in the wake of Electric Ladyland between 1968 and 1970. While the versions heard here are previously unreleased, many of the songs will be familiar to those who have spent times with outtake collections from the seventies like Rainbow Bridge, Crash Landing and Midnight Lightning. Crucially though, these are the original studio recordings, minus the overdubbed rhythm parts added by session players for those albums. As fans have long suspected, the performances on the original tracks – by Buddy Miles, Mitch Mitchell, Billy Cox, Steven Stills, sometimes Hendrix himself on bass – are strong enough to make one wonder why spurious overdubs were ever thought to be a good idea.
The gold standard for late-period Hendrix releases is First Rays Of The New Rising Sun, which seems like the closest thing we’re ever going to get to a proper fourth studio album from Jimi, all finished masters of A-grade material, much of which he was performing live in 1970. People, Hell and Angels isn’t quite that. It has the skeletal feel of a work in progress, largely free of overdubs, and workouts like “Let Me Move You” with his old Chitlin Circuit partner Lonnie Youngblood probably wouldn’t have found a home on one of Jimi’s proper albums in his lifetime. But it’s a good record, made up of carefully selected tracks that work well together as a cohesive package.
The casual Hendrix fan will be thrilled to add tracks like “Earth Blues” and “Bleeding Heart” to their inventory, while the hardcore completist who has heard these songs before will leap at the chance to check out “Crash Landing” in its original form with drums courtesy of the Cherry Peoples’ Rocky Isaac, or the excellent take on “Somewhere” with Stephen Stills on bass, or the complete six-minute version of “Easy Blues” featuring several minutes of interplay with guitarist Larry Lee that were inexplicably cut when the song was issued on 1981’s Nine To The Universe. A couple of more generally familiar songs like “Izabella” and “Hear My Rain A’Comin’” appear, but in alternate takes that are significantly different from any that have been heard before.
There’s an essential funkiness to much of the material here that is noticeably absent in the Experience, and only occasionally heard in Band of Gypsies, but most often shows its face when players from outside his immediate circle are brought in, maybe for the express purpose of getting funky. That bare-bones grit was a featured element on the latter half of the West Coast Seattle Boy box set a few years ago, and comes through even more powerfully on this collection.
The Davis set presents a Quintet made up of saxophonist Wayne Shorter, drummer Jack DeJohnette, keyboardist Chick Corea and bassist Dave Holland, that toured Europe in summer and fall of 1969 but never made a studio recording, resulting in its nickname as “The Lost Quintet”. This package collects four shows from July and November of 1969, three audio CDs and a brilliant-quality DVD, in which Davis pulls from a stunningly wide selection of his old material alongside a number of songs from the still-brewing Bitches Brew.
Given that he rarely covered multiple past eras in his live performances before or after this, it’s easy to interpret these dates as an unbilled farewell tour to a particular repertoire and way of doing things. Recorded in August of 1969 and released in April of 1970, Bitches Brew changed the shape of Miles’ concerts. Live shows following that album’s release would see an expanded, plugged-in band playing loud and heavy, a format he’d retain for years. These recordings serve as a fitting end to the era of acoustic Miles, the band playing with lyrical precision on chestnuts like “Round Midnight” and “I Fall In Love Too Easily” but showing traces of the hard edge and slippery surfaces that were to become Miles’ next step.
Even mostly unplugged – only Corea is using an amp – you can hear the germs of fusion in the way the players approach the sketchy compositions. When these quintet versions are heard alongside classics from across his entire history – from be-bop through his modal period right to his late-sixties work with Shorter – a picture emerges about the continuum of ideas, and the way that one idea realized that changes the landscape makes it possible to have another idea, how “Milestones” leads to “Footprints” and so forth. Miles had changed the landscape several times in the twenty years preceding this recording, and was about to do it again. He doesn’t have the electric guitars on board yet, but he doesn’t exactly NEED them to make these compositions work. This was, as Miles himself noted, “a bad motherfucker” of a band.
The song lists vary a bit from night to night, and some of the hazily-sketched new songs sound so different as to be unrecognizable, particularly when comparing the Antibes performances in July, prior to the Bitches Brew recording sessions, to the shows in November. Four concerts doesn’t feel like too many to have when the performances are this revelatory, and a rare version of Corea’s composition “This” on the Stockholm set makes it an essential purchase for the Davis scholar. But there’s enough variation, intensity and sheer beauty on hand to make this recommendable to anyone with a taste for Miles’ music of any era.