Apr 17, 2017

Miles Davis Bitches Brew: Which Format Sounds Best?

Takes many listens for Bitches Brew to make sense

By 1970 Miles Davis was a house hold name, and had been such for more than 10 years, Davis had all ready changed jazz at least 4 times before, but nothing could prepare the jazz establishment for this.

A dark brooding double album of in your face "I don't care what you critics think" music. A brand of music that shook off the jazz tradition, grabbed what it needed from the rock, and the avant-garde, BUT could not be easily classified in ANY genre terms.

I remember the first time I heard Bitches Brew, I was completely in awe. I had only recently discovered modern jazz back in the mid-90's, bassist producer Bill Laswell came out with an electric period re-mix album of Davis jazz rock; I don't think even one Bitches Brew track shows up on there, But Panthalassa wet my appetite for more electric Miles.

 Bitches Brew though, was the point where any preconceived notions I had about Miles Davis being just a straight ahead jazz musician were shattered forever.

Quadraphonic LP, Columbia 2 EYE Pressings, or Current Reissues? What about CD's and Downloads?

After I became such a modern jazz and jazz rock fan, I began collecting vinyl in the mid 2000's, nothing quite like finding these treasures and hearing them in the format they were intended. The huge 12 inch art work, by comparison makes CD's seem pointless.

Vinyl's warm analog sound can also make the CD's digital compression, and brightness sound like garbage when comparing vintage recordings, things have improved in that regard. Though I do listen to CD's and Downloads along with vinyl, I am not a snob, I just prefer vinyl in most cases.

For the purposes of this post, I thought it might be interesting to listen consecutively to all my vinyl copies of Bitches Brew and give a report on which is the best sounding.

 I have listened to each of these a few times each at least, with the Quad pressing easily being my favorite, but honestly I was surprised at the results paying close attention:

Quad Vinyl Bitches Brew

The quadraphonic pressing has been my favorite overall as I mentioned, even without the vintage equipment, "as long as the pressing says QS or SQ and not CD4, you do not need a quad decoder". I was startled at how the trumpet really had some echo added, and the bass seemed much punchier.

I really like the quad mix, the sound stage seem to open up to really fill your room, Some have complained that the high-end can get a bit bright. I think they are confused, because the bass is crisp and not as muddy as the regular stereo mix.

1970 Columbia 2 Eye, 12 Sides of Miles, and 40th Anniversary Box

Honestly the Columbia 2 eye vintage copy and the (12 Sides of Miles Box) set sounded about the same, pretty good, but not like the Quad pressing.

The biggest surprise here is the 40th anniversary box set vinyl copy, I had only listened to it once, but was impressed, the second time around had me thinking, "Man I think I prefer this over the vintage 2 eye copy".

I hate to say it, knowing that the quad pressing is sort of not authentic in how it was meant to sound, "My Hypothesis", I think I might recommend the 40th Anniversary box as the way to get this music.

The bass on the 40th set's vinyl is deep and crisp, not too muddy, and crystal clear, no complaints at all. I realize you don't get any little odd studio quirks like on the quad pressing. But hell you can get this 40th set cheaper than a quad pressing, and you get it on CD, a DVD concert, and a nice book and bonuses.

Quadraphonic Sampler with Miles Runs the Voodoo Down

I also added the quad sampler if you noticed, "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down" is on that sampler, and WOW, this was a shock, I found that record in a .99 cent bin at a local Cincinnati Ohio record shop, the cover's beat, but vinyl is near mint.

This sampler quad copy's Voodoo, sounds nothing like the full album pressing I have, This is has a seriously different echo and effects on the trumpet to my ears, the bass is fatter toned too. I wonder why the sound difference?

You can get a quad pressing of Bitches Brew in the $50-$100 range, and an original vintage copy, for less than $50 in near mint condition. The 40th Anniversary box will run you about 50 bucks as well, shop around, you can get a deal.

By the way: If you'd like to read some more thoughts about Miles Davis and his Jazz Rock, this article would be great place to start.

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