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"When you’re creating your own shit, man, even the sky ain’t the limit."

"The word 'bitches', you know, probably that was the first time a title like that was ever used. The title fit the music, the cover fit the music."
Teo Macero
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Bitches Brew is a double album by Miles Davis, recorded from August 19 through 21, 1969, and released in early 1970, and widely considered one of the most revolutionary albums in jazz history, alongside Davis' Kind of Blue. While it wasn't the first album mixing rock and jazz, or even Miles' first album using electric instruments, it's often seen as the Trope Codifier for fusion jazz, mixing traditional jazz instruments with electric guitars and keyboards improvising over long, funk-inspired rhythms, inspired by contemporary artists like Jimi Hendrix and Sly and the Family Stone. It also qualifies as the Genre Popularizer, as it sold quite a bit better than any previous work in the genre.

Despite this, it is a dark and unsettling album, befitting its title; it's quite dissonant, and most songs have an unsettling atmosphere, as though something is slightly out of place. Miles' other major fusion works from this period, In a Silent Way (also 1969) and A Tribute to Jack Johnson (recorded 1970, released 1971), are quite a bit brighter, with less usage of dissonance and more usage of major keys, and may be better places for timid listeners who are curious about Miles' fusion period to start.

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Time Magazine included the album in their 2006 list of 100 timeless and essential albums. The album was listed at nr. #95 in Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time

Tracklist:

Side One

  1. "Pharaoh's Dance" (20:00)

Side Two

  1. "Bitches Brew" (26:59)

Side Three

  1. "Spanish Key" (17:29)
  2. "John McLaughlin" (4:26)

Side Four

  1. "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down" (14:04)
  2. "Sanctuary" (10:52)

Personnel

  • Miles Davis: trumpet
  • Wayne Shorter: soprano saxophone
  • Bennie Maupin: bass clarinet
  • Joe Zawinul: electric piano
  • Chick Corea: electric piano
  • John McLaughlin: electric guitar
  • Dave Holland: bass
  • Harvey Brooks: electric bass
  • Lenny White, Jack DeJohnette, Billy Cobham: drums
  • Don Alias: congas
  • Juma Santos: shaker, congas
  • Airto Moreira: percussion, cuica


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Tropes brew:

  • Alliterative Title: "Bitches Brew".
  • all lowercase letters: Ralph J. Gleason's liner notes.
  • Blatant Lies: Any song on The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions that isn't one of the above-listed tracks was actually recorded long after the sessions for Bitches Brew ended.
  • Bookends: A retroactive example; the first and last songs were written by Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter, the future founders of Weather Report.
  • Brown Note: An almost literal example; some listeners have reported actual nightmares after falling asleep to this album. This makes the title quite fitting, in a way.
  • Cover Version: The sessions for the album included a take on David Crosby's "Guinnevere". It was left off the album after Crosby told Miles he hated it.
  • Darker and Edgier: This album could essentially be described as the evil twin of In a Silent Way. The main riff of the title track has an almost demonic sound to it. The first disc is a bit darker than the second, though both are quite dark by the standards of 1960s jazz. It's also quite a bit darker than the major studio work that followed this, A Tribute to Jack Johnson.
  • Design Student's Orgasm: The psychedelic album cover.
  • Distinct Double Album: One of the most famous double albums in jazz. The first half's lengthy compositions were spliced together by producer Teo Macero in the studio, which completely altered the composition of the songs. The famous intro to "Pharaoh's Dance" is actually the entire first 1:38 repeating twice – and even that section is spliced up a bit. The title track also featured extensive editing; it's centred around segments featuring two separate, memorable riffs, and each of these riffs was taken from its own section. The song has an A-B-A-B-A structure, meaning there's quite a bit of editing. The whole process pissed off jazz purists, who said it compromised the integrity and improvisation of the genre. By contrast, the second half of the album is comprised of one-take recordings. The first disc is also quite a bit more unsettling, though both are still dark.
  • Epic Rocking: It's a six-song double album. Only one song clocks in at under 10 minutes, and the longest ("Bitches Brew") is twenty-seven minutes long. Keep in mind that this was in an era where where it was extremely rare for songs to exceed about 25 minutes due to LP space limitations - to press longer album sides, one would have to reduce the volume, which would in turn increase the noise floor.
  • Gratuitous Panning: The songs have at least two drummers or keyboardists at once, mixed all the way on the left or the right channels. Arguably a Justified Trope, since the panning makes it easier to distinguish the musicians' parts.
  • Improv: Miles' direction was so sparse that no sheet music was prepared, and he gave directions on the fly. He can be heard in the quieter sections of "Bitches Brew". However, this is a Downplayed Trope by the standards of 1960s jazz, since the album featured heavy editing on its first disc, as explained above under Distinct Double Album.
  • Instrumental: Miles' verbal directions aside, all songs are instrumental.
  • Intentionally Awkward Title: So it's 1969, and we have an African-American artist with a large white fanbase famous for playing smooth, cool jazz... and he puts out an album called Bitches Brew, with a stylized painting of naked black god-like characters on the cover, and loud, funky, very electric songs. This album wasn't looking to get overlooked.
  • Leave the Camera Running: "Sanctuary" is actually two consecutive takes of the song.
  • Limited Special Collector's Ultimate Edition: The 4-CD Complete Bitches Brew Sessions. The title is a bit of a misnomer, though - many of the tracks included on it did not come from the sessions for the album.
  • Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: How some people saw it initially; it still remains controversial for jazz fans.
  • New Sound Album: This album defined jazz fusion and spelled the end of Miles' "cool jazz" period.
  • One-Word Title: "Sanctuary".
  • Pun-Based Title: On "Witches Brew" from Shakespeare's play Macbeth.
  • Rearrange the Song: Sort of. Much of the album, especially "Pharaoh's Dance" and "Bitches Brew", is actually edited together by Record Producer Teo Macero, who used a ton of studio tricks including looping and editing tapes.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Son of a Bitches Brew by the prolific Japanese Psychedelic Rock band Acid Mothers Temple is a shout-out to this album.
    • Canadian punk/jazz/Math Rock band Nomeansno recorded a With Lyrics cover of the title track on their album One. While it's shorter than the original, it's still fifteen minutes long.
  • Shout-Out: To Shakespeare: The title is a play on "Witches' brew", as in the opening scene of Macbeth.
    Lennie White: Bitches Brew was like a big pot and Miles was the sorcerer. He was hanging over it, saying, ‘I’m going to add a dash of Jack DeJohnette, and a little bit of John McLaughlin, and then I’m going to add a pinch of Lenny White. And here’s a teaspoonful of Bennie Maupin playing the bass clarinet.’ He made that work.
  • Singer Name Drop: "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down" refers to Miles Davis. The track "John McLaughlin" is a shout-out to his guitarist John McLaughlin.
  • Step Up to the Amp: Miles doesn't play on "John McLaughlin", instead letting his guitarist take over.
  • Super Group: As with many of Miles' albums. Sidemen include Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Chick Corea, John McLaughlin and Jack DeJohnette, all of whom had successful careers in other bands or as band leaders.
  • This Is for Emphasis, Bitch!: The title.
  • Trope Codifier: For jazz fusion.

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