Dark Magus

Dark Magus

Dark Magus
Miles Davis
Released 1977
Recorded March 30, 1974, at Carnegie Hall in New York City
Genre Jazz-rock[1]
Length 100:58
Label CBS-Sony
Producer Teo Macero
Miles Davis chronology

Water Babies
Dark Magus
Circle in the Round

Dark Magus is a live double album by American jazz musician Miles Davis. It was recorded on March 30, 1974, at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Davis' group at the time included bassist Michael Henderson, drummer Al Foster, percussionist James Mtume, saxophonist Dave Liebman, and guitarists Pete Cosey and Reggie Lucas. He also used the show to audition saxophonist Azar Lawrence and guitarist Dominique Gaumont. Dark Magus was produced by Teo Macero and featured four two-part recordings titled after Swahili names for the numbers one through four.

Dark Magus was released after Davis' retirement, after which his label, Columbia Records, issued several albums of various outtakes. After they released the live recordings Agharta (1975) and Pangaea (1976), Columbia did not approve of the albums and only released Dark Magus in Japan. It was issued in 1977 by CBS-Sony. The label's A&R executive Tatsu Nosaki suggested the album's title, which referred to the Zoroastrian religious figure Magus.

Along with Davis' other albums during the 1970s, Dark Magus was received ambivalently by contemporary music critics, but inspired noise rock acts during the late 1970s and the experimental funk artists of the 1980s. The album was not released in the United States until July 1997, when it was reissued by Sony Records and Legacy Records. In retrospective reviews, critics praised its jazz-rock aesthetic and the group members' performances, and felt that parts of the music foreshadowed jungle music. In 2001, Q magazine named Dark Magus one of the 50 Heaviest Albums of All Time.


Davis was 47 years old when he was asked to play Carnegie Hall in 1974, which followed four years of relentless touring. He had played the venue numerous times before and recorded a live album there in 1961. By 1974, Davis had been dealing with depression, cocaine, and sex addictions, and several health problems, including osteoarthritis, bursitis, and sickle-cell anemia. He had also lost respect with both critics and his contemporaries because of his musical explorations into more rock and funk-oriented sounds.[2] Davis was influenced by Karlheinz Stockhausen and sought to avoid individual songs in favor of extended movements that transmuted into succeeding compositions.[3] He played his trumpet sparsely and became less of the focal point for his band, whom he allowed more freedom to improvise and with whom he rarely rehearsed, so that the young musicians he enlisted would be tested to learn and play together onstage.[2]

The concert

The March 30 concert featured an ethnically and age-diverse audience that included young hippies and old, wealthy attendees. According to Magnet magazine's Bryan Bierman, "the hip, 'with it' kids [sat] side-by-side with middle-aged tuxedoed couples, expecting to hear 'My Funny Valentine.'"[2] Although he lived 15 minutes away, Davis arrived at the venue more than an hour late. When the band walked out onstage, he followed with his back turned to the audience.[2] He casually strolled onstage while the band was setting up and began to play, to which they responded by playing a dense rhythm in unison.[4] Saxophonist Dave Liebman, who wrote the liner notes for Dark Magus,[5] later said of how the show began: "It is his whim .. That's the thing! ... Miles can do that and have three thousand musicians follow him. Right? So what I learned in that respect from Miles was to be able to watch him and be on his case".[4]

Davis also used the show to audition two new members—tenor saxophonist Azar Lawrence and guitarist Dominique Gaumont.[4] Lawrence was the most highly regarded young saxophonist at the time; Davis enlisted Gaumont in response to incumbent guitarist Reggie Lucas's demand for a pay raise.[6] Although it was unexpected, Liebman later characterized the move as typical of Davis:


[Davis] shifted gears at will in his early-'70s music, orchestrating moods and settings to subjugate the individual musical inspirations of his young close-enough-for-funk subgeniuses to the life of a single palpitating organism that would have perished without them—no arrangements, little composition, and not many solos either, although at any moment a player could find himself left to fly off on his own.

Robert Christgau, review of Dark Magus[7]

Dark Magus features four two-part compositions that average a length of 25 minutes.[5] The album's music was unrehearsed and eschewed melody for improvisations around funk rhythms and grooves. According to Allmusic's Thom Jurek, rhythms, colors, and keys "would shift and change on a whim from Davis."[8] Davis eschewed his previous performances' keyboardists for a three-guitar line-up of Reggie Lucas, Dominique Gaumont, and Pete Cosey, who had a penchant for guitar wails and pedal effects.[9] Davis often stopped the band with hand signals and created empty spaces, which were longer than traditional jazz breaks and encouraged the soloists to fill them with exaggerated cadenzas.[10]

Davis only soloed intermittently or played his Yamaha organ.[9] He played trumpet on "Moja" and both trumpet and organ on the other pieces.[4] The second half of "Moja" is distinguished by a long ballad sequence introduced by Liebman and continued by Lucas and Davis.[6] "Moja" also included a theme from "Nne".[10] On "Tatu", Gaumont followed Lucas's solo with a long passage characterized by fuzzy wah-wah effects, and Lawrence played briefly with Liebman in a duet before his own disjointed solo.[6] "Tatu" ended with a rendition of "Calypso Frelimo".[4] The first part of "Nne" is Davis' "Ife".[10] Near the end of "Nne", Davis played a short blues.[6]

Music journalist Robert Christgau described the aesthetic on Dark Magus as a culmination of Davis' previous albums and "bifurcated, like jazz-rock again."[11] He argued that Davis left the two elements—jazz and rock—"distinct and recognizable", whereas "pure funk" would have subsumed them both "in a new conception, albeit one that" favors rock. Christgau attributed the album's jazz input to Lawrence's "Coltranesque" saxophone, and the rock elements to guitarists Lucas and Gaumont, who "wah-riff[ed] the rhythm", and Pete Cosey, who produced "his own wah-wah-inflected noise into the arena-rock stratosphere."[7] Music journalist Erik Davis compared Davis' trumpet sound to "a mournful but pissed-off banshee", and Cosey, Lucas, and Gaumont to "somewhere between and beyond James Brown and Can", amid "quiet percussion passages [that] emerge like moonlit clearings".[12]


Dark Magus was released after Davis' retirement, upon which his label, Columbia Records, issued several albums of various outtakes. They released his live albums Agharta (1975) and Pangaea (1976), but did ultimately did not approve of Davis' live recordings and chose to issue Dark Magus only in Japan.[2] It was released in 1977 by CBS-Sony,[13] who used several engineering fades in the album's production to shorten the original concert for the final release.[10] The album's four tracks were titled after Swahili names for the numbers one through four.[8] Its title was suggested by Tatsu Nosaki, an A&R executive from CBS-Sony, who were producing the album. According to Nosaki, "Magus ... is the founder of the ancient Persian religion, Zoroastrianism."[10]

The album was not released in the United States until July 1997, when it was reissued by Sony Records and Legacy Records. It was part of the labels' reissue of five two-disc live albums by Davis, including Black Beauty: Live at the Fillmore West (1970), Miles Davis at Fillmore (1970), Live-Evil (1971), and In Concert (1973). The reissued albums featured liner notes written by his sidemen.[5]

Reception and legacy

Professional ratings
Retrospective reviews
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4/5 stars[8]
Robert Christgau A[7]
Down Beat 4/5 stars[14]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 4/5 stars[15]
Entertainment Weekly A[16]
Los Angeles Times 2/4 stars[17]
Pitchfork Media 9.5/10[18]
The Penguin Guide to Jazz 3.5/4 stars[19]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 3.5/5 stars[20]

Along with Davis' other 1970s albums, Dark Magus was received ambivalently by music critics upon its release, but became an inspiration to late 1970s noise rock acts and the experimental funk artists of the 1980s.[21] Its 1997 reissue was ranked by Robert Christgau as the 10th best album of the year in his list for The Village Voice's annual Pazz & Jop critics' poll.[22] In 2001, Q magazine included it on their list of the 50 Heaviest Albums of All Time and called it "a maelstrom of uncut improvisational fury ... arguably the furthest out Miles ever got".[23] David Keenan placed it in his all-time 105 best albums list for the Sunday Herald and said that, by ornamenting his heavy grooves with tribal percussive instruments, wah-wah effects, and otherworldly trumpet bursts, Davis had instinctively fused the most advanced elements of contemporary African-American music.[24] According to CODA magazine's Greg Masters, Davis created among the most darkest and radical auras, feelings, and moods in 20th century music on Dark Magus.[25]

In a retrospective review for JazzTimes, Tom Terrell said that the album's kind of music would never be heard again and described it as "tomorrow's sound yesterday ... a terrifyingly exhilarating aural asylum of wails, howls, clanks, chanks, telltale heartbeats, wah wah quacks, white noise and loud silences."[26] Pitchfork Media's Jason Josephes viewed it as a highly valued Davis album that invokes a sense of coolness in listeners: "Just when you think the shit can't get much higher, Miles comes in and hits the wah-wah down hard on the horn and the next thing you know, you're slappin' five to the man upstairs."[18] Erik Davis, writing in Spin, found its anguished, ferocious music extremely impressive, especially when played loud, and particularly praised the group improvisation on songs such as "Wili", which he felt foreshadowed drum 'n' bass: "Miles was invoking the primordial powers of the electronic urban jungle".[12] Down Beat credited the frantic burbles of congas on "Moja" and "Tatu" for presaging oldschool jungle by 20 years.[14]

In The Penguin Guide to Jazz (1998), Richard Cook and Brian Morton wrote that each performance on the album comprises only "shadings and sanations of sound, and as one gets to know these recordings better one becomes almost fixated on the tiniest inflexions."[19] In The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004), J. D. Considine viewed Dark Magus as an improvement over 1973's In Concert, because it expressed the band's surging rhythms better and offered a balance between their affinity for improvisation and their desire to rock.[27] Jeff McCord of The Austin Chronicle found the performances impassioned, enduring, and highlighted by effectively competitive playing between each duo of saxophonists and guitarists.[28] According to John Szwed, it has moments when all three guitarists and two saxophonists are "in dense and exalted free improvisation together, and Pete Cosey's tunings, effects, excess, and sheer inventiveness took the guitar to the point where Hendrix, free jazz, and rhythm and blues proudly merged together."[10] By contrast, Don Heckman of the Los Angeles Times was not fond of the band's repetitive funk rhythms, Davis' limited, unexceptional playing, the presence of tablas, electric sitar, and multiple guitars, and the music's similarity to Hendrix, Sly Stone, and James Brown.[17] Allmusic's Thom Jurek called it an exaggerated and excessive showcase of Davis' disoriented psyche and felt that, although the rhythm section is historically compelling, the other musicians' playing is inconsistent, albeit enthralling.[8]

Track listing

Original double LP

All tracks were composed by Miles Davis.

Record one
  1. "Dark Magus – Moja" – 25:24
  2. "Dark Magus – Wili" – 25:08
Record two
  1. "Dark Magus – Tatu" – 25:20
  2. "Dark Magus – Nne" – 25:32

CD reissue

Disc one
  1. "Moja (Part 1)" – 12:28
  2. "Moja (Part 2)" – 12:40
  3. "Wili (Part 1)" – 14:20
  4. "Wili (Part 2)" – 10:44
Disc two
  1. "Tatu (Part 1)" – 18:47
  2. "Tatu (Part 2) ('Calypso Frelimo')" – 6:29
  3. "Nne (Part 1) ('Ife')" – 15:19
  4. "Nne (Part 2)" – 10:11


See also



Further reading

External links

  • Discogs (list of releases)