This month, we’re listening to Miles Davis’s double live album Dark Magus, recorded 30 March 1974 at Carnegie Hall. It features the loud, funk- and rock ‘n’ roll-infused, long-form performances that dominated the trumpeter’s work in the 1970s prior to his half-decade sabbatical. Among the compositions is “Ife,” which, in its evolving form over the 1970s allows us to gain some insight into Miles’s musical conception. “Ife” is named after the Nigerian city, which according to the Yoruba people, is the site of the origin of creation.
“Ife” was first recorded by Miles in June 1972, with a band that included Carlos Garnett on soprano sax, Bennie Maupin on bass clarinet, Lonnie Liston Smith on organ, Harold I. Williams on electric piano and synthesizer, Michael Henderson on electric bass, the redoubtable Al Foster, “Jabali” Billy Hart, James Mtume Forman and Badal Roy on drums and percussion. The 1972 studio recording would appear on the album Big Fun (Columbia, 1972). The session marked an important inflection point between the initial fusion experiments of Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1970) and the darker, more mysterious style featured on albums like Dark Magus.
Peter Losin’s indispensible on-line Miles Ahead discography identifies a large number of live recordings of “Ife” over the course of the ’70s. Only four are more or less “officially” released, the others being featured on bootlegs of varying quality levels and availability:
- a September 1972 recording from Lincoln Center, released on the album In Concert, and identified as “Part III”;
- the March 1974 version on Dark Magus, identified as “Nne, part 1″‘
- two versions recorded the afternoon and evening of 1 February 1975 at the Festival Hall in Osaka, Japan; the afternoon version appeared on the album Agharta, labelled as the second part of “Interlude” and the first part of “Theme from Jack Johnson”; the evening version appeared on Pangaea, where it is identified as the first part of “Gondwana”.
On the 13 February broadcast, we’ll listen to the Dark Magus version, as well as the original studio recording from 1972. During the late ’60s and early ’70s, Miles innovated so relentlessly that performances only months apart can reveal striking differences. That’s what inspires this particular compare-and-contrast. Losin notes the following about Miles’s changing conception of “Ife”:
“Ife” evolved as it was performed during this period: the jaunty ten-note ascending-descending vamp that is the basis of the tune here was supplemented (and soon replaced) by a simpler four-note riff. In 1972 live performances, the tune typically begins with the latter riff and shifts to the former. By early 1973 the simpler riff (with a slower tempo) has replaced it completely.
At least three excellent covers of “Ife” are out there: by guitarist Henry Kaiser and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, from their album Yo! Miles (Schanachie, 1998); by trumpeter Wallace Roney and a cast of thousands on Bob Belden’s excellent Miles in India (Four Quarters, 2008) – in fact, they do both the “fast” 1972 and the “slow” 1975 versions; and most recently by saxophonist Chris Kelsey‘s group What I Say, on The Electric Miles Project (self-produced, 2013).
The late-night hour of our radio program provides a little freedom and space, a little meditative attention, to consider new and unusual sounds, and to consider longer performances like these. I hope you enjoy as much as I do this freedom, and I hope you’ll tune in to hear these versions of “Ife”.