Thought by many to be the most revolutionary album in jazz history, having virtually created the genre known as jazz-rock fusion (for better or worse) and being the jazz album to most influence rock and funk musicians, Bitches Brew is, by its very nature, mercurial. The original double LP included only six cuts and featured up to 12 musicians at any given time, most of whom would go on to be high-level players in their own right: Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, Airto, John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette, Holland, Don Alias, Benny Maupin, Larry Young, Lenny White, and others. Originally thought to be a series of long jams locked into grooves around one or two keyboard, bass, or guitar figures, Bitches Brew is anything but. Producer Teo Macero had as much to do with the end product on Bitches Brew as Davis. Macero and Davis assembled, from splice to splice, section to section, much of the music recorded over three days in August 1969. First, there's the slow, modal, opening grooves of "Pharaoh's Dance," with its slippery trumpet lines to McLaughlin's snaky guitar figures skirting the edge of the rhythm section and Don Alias' conga slipping through the middle. The keyboards of Corea and Zawinul create a haunting, riffing groove echoed and accented by the two basses of Harvey Brooks and Dave Holland. The title cut was originally composed as a five-part suite, though only three were used. Here the keyboards punch through the mix, big chords and distorted harmonics ring up a racket for Davis to solo over rhythmically outside the mode. McLaughlin is comping on fat chords, creating the groove, and the bass and drums carry the rest for a small taste of deep-voodoo funk. Side three opens with McLaughlin and Davis trading funky fours and eights over the lock-step groove of hypnotic proportion that is "Spanish Key." Zawinul's trademark melodic sensibility provides a kind of chorus for Corea to flat around, and the congas and drummers working in complement against the bass lines. This nearly segues into the four-and-a-half minute "John McLaughlin," with its signature organ mode and arpeggiated blues guitar runs. The end of Bitches Brew, signified by the stellar "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down," echoes the influence of Jimi Hendrix; with its chuck-and-slip chords and lead figures and Davis playing a ghostly melody through the shimmering funkiness of the rhythm section, it literally dances and becomes increasingly more chaotic until about nine minutes in, where it falls apart. Yet one doesn't know it until near the end, when it simmers down into smoke-and-ice fog once more. The disc closes with "Sanctuary," a previously recorded Davis tune that is completely redone here as an electric moody ballad reworked for this band, but keeping enough of its modal integrity to be outside the rest of Bitches Brew's retinue. The CD reissue adds "Feio," a track recorded early in 1970 with the same band. Unreleased - except on the box set of the complete sessions - "Feio" has more in common with the exploratory music of the previous August than with later, more structured Davis music in the jazz-rock vein. A three-note bass vamp centers the entire thing as three different modes entwine one another, seeking a groove to bolt onto. It never finds it, but becomes its own nocturnal beast, offering ethereal dark tones and textures to slide the album out the door on. Thus Bitches Brew retains its freshness and mystery long after its original issue.
- Thom Jurek (All Music Guide)