Reviewed by Harvey Pekar, Fri., Jan. 13, 2006
The Cellar Door Sessions 1970 (Columbia Legacy)This 6-CD live set was recorded Dec. 16-19, 1970, at Washington, D.C.'s Cellar Door. Trumpeter Davis heads a fusion band including Gary Bartz, alto and soprano saxes; Keith Jarrett, electric piano and electric organ; John McLaughlin, guitar (discs five and six); Michael Henderson, bass; Jack DeJohnette, drums; and Airto Moreira, percussion. The music is layered, with plenty of interplay between the rhythm section. Henderson, then a teenager whose main experience had been in R&B, plays relatively simple lines, but gives the band a solid base on which to build. DeJohnette demonstrates a definite rock and R&B influence, but plays with much sophistication, while Moreira fills the cracks, sometimes using vocal effects. Ultimately, however, Jarrett is the overriding presence in the rhythm section, his solos the high point of this set. These are some of the most rugged, funkiest spots he's ever recorded, yet they're full of substantive ideas and well put together. The direct, no-nonsense quality of his solos is admirable. McLaughlin plays laudably, demonstrating impressive chops and a rich imagination. If only the horn players were in better form. Bartz is inconsistent, Davis disappointing. Maybe Miles was thinking of himself more as the lead voice of a collectively improvising ensemble than a soloist. He plays in fits and starts, screaming, improvising complex but sloppily executed runs, not making good use of wah-wah effects. His efforts don't hold together well. The loose group concept might be prime suspect in Davis' cliché-filled performance, but there's Jarrett, member of the same group, playing so well. Jazz fans tend to think of and evaluate Davis' fusion recordings as a whole, but actually there's a wide variation in their quality, and that should be kept in mind when purchasing them.