Live-Evil is one of Miles Davis’ most confusing and illuminating documents. As a double album, it features very different settings of his band — and indeed two very different bands. The double-LP CD package is an amalgam of a December 19, 1970, gig at the Cellar Door, which featured a band comprised of Miles, bassist Michael Henderson, drummer Jack DeJohnette, guitarist John McLaughlin, saxophonist Gary Bartz, Keith Jarrett on organ, and percussionist Airto.
These tunes show a septet that grooved hard and fast, touching on the great funkiness that would come on later. But they are also misleading in that McLaughlin only joined the band for this night of a four-night stand; he wasn’t really a member of the band at this time. Therefore, as fine and deeply lyrically grooved-out as these tracks are, they feel just a bit stiff — check any edition of this band without him and hear the difference. The other band on these discs was recorded in Columbia’s Studio B and subbed Ron Carter or Dave Holland on bass, added Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock on electric pianos, dropped the guitar on “Selim” and “Nem Um Talvez,” and subbed Steve Grossman over Gary Bartz while adding Hermeto Pascoal on percussion and drums in one place (“Selim”). In fact, these sessions were recorded earlier than the live dates, the previous June in fact, when the three-keyboard band was beginning to fall apart.
Why the discs were not issued separately or as a live disc and a studio disc has more to do with Miles’ mind than anything else. As for the performances, the live material is wonderfully immediate and fiery: “Sivad,” “Funky Tonk,” and “What I Say” all cream with enthusiasm, even if they are a tad unsure of how to accommodate McLaughlin. Of the studio tracks, only “Little Red Church” comes up to that level of excitement, but the other tracks, particularly “Gemini/Double Image,” have a winding, whirring kind of dynamic to them that seems to turn them back in on themselves, as if the band was really pushing in a free direction that Miles was trying to rein in. It’s an awesome record, but it’s because of its flaws rather than in spite of them. This is the sound of transition and complexity, and somehow it still grooves wonderfully. [Thom Jhurek / AMG.com]