One can still sense the stretch marks on this double album, long after its release in 1971. Track after surprising track, Live-Evil sounds bulges at the seams in its effort to contain all Miles was up to the year before—the crazy diversity of experiences in 1970. They ranged from rock-band abandon spilling off of small club stages, to ambient jams and mood pieces crafted in the recording studio. He was working a wider sonic mix than ever—wah-wah trumpet (within the album’s first minute!) and Indian sitar, electric guitar and electronic keyboards, whistling and vocalizing and shouts (on “Funky Tonk”), spoken poetry (on “Inamorata”) and the “speaking” of the Brazilian cuíca all over. The music is a crazy psychedelic mix—not jazz or rock or funk. Not this or that. Willfully kaleidoscopic and boldly futuristic.
“I love tomorrow,” the actor/poet Conrad Roberts says, his voice layered onto “Inamorata”, praising the menagerie swirling around him and asking about it at the same time: “Who is this music that which description may never justify? Can the ocean be described?”
One way into the maelstrom of Live-Evil is to follow the contrasts: dark and then light, loud then soft, funky then relaxed. The album’s title and cover—by Mati Klarwein, whose painting also graces Bitches Brew—speak to this idea of bridging opposites, pairing mirror images, balancing one half with another. Another way into the album is to realize that Live-Evil is as much a product of what Miles and his bands performed as what his producer Teo Macero did with a razor blade in post-production, splicing together pieces of performances, leaning on contrasts and juxtapositions, in a way that predicts today’s digital technology making the same cut-and-paste approach so prevalent—and so much easier.
Live-Evil includes eight tracks, half being composites created from live recordings at Washington, D.C.’s Cellar Door club, with a relatively slimmed-down ensemble including Gary Bartz on soprano sax, Keith Jarrett on electric organ, Jack DeJohnette on drums, John McLaughlin on electric guitar, Airto Moreira on percussion. The crackling energy on the tracks “Sivad,” “What I Say,” “Funky Tonk” and “Inamorata” comes from a band working together and pulling along separate vectors, simultaneously. The man holding the music together with a rooted, funk feel—anchoring it while others test it—was bassist Michael Henderson, young yet with significant experience in Stevie Wonder’s band and around Detroit.
The other four tunes are studio-born and also sutured together. Three (“Nem Um Talvez,” “Selim,” and “Little Church”) are wispy, private melodies that happened when Miles encountered the Brazilian meta-musician, originally pianist Hermeto Pascoal (he’s so elemental a spirit there’s an online video of him playing a river!) The tracks also feature a rare Ron Carter-Herbie Hancock reunion, plus Steve Grossman on soprano, Jarrett on organ, Moreira and DeJohnette on percussion. The other—“Gemini/Double Image”—is a true rock-jazz gem, rhythmically deliberate, another performance built on contrasting sonic values: menacing versus mellow and melodic, hushed versus screaming.